1/30/2016

10 Fundamental Teacher Archetypes

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As every language arts teacher knows, all the best fairytales are populated by a cast of archetypical characters: the Hero, the Love Interest, the Sidekick, the Villain.  Along the same lines, having watched the parade of teachers come and go through our building over the years, I've identified 11 Teacher Archetypes.  Though of course many teachers possess elements of several different Types at once, I bet teachers reading this list will instantly identify examples of each of these Types among their colleagues past and present.

Please enjoy this deliberately irreverent, tongue-in-cheek overview of Teacher Archetypes, and feel free to comment if I've overlooked any of your personal favorites!
  1. The Cheerleader. Cheerleaders are the True Believers - the ones who are so passionate about their calling that they'd be teachers even if they weren't earning those sky-high salaries. Idealists and visionaries, they believe that Children Are The Future and, therefore, teachers are the shapers and molders of the future, through the knowledge and values that they pass onto their students in the classroom. Cheerleaders endeavor to inspire a like passion in their students through strategies like dressing up as the historical characters they are teaching, sponsoring field trips to the local courthouse, and requiring their students to do community service work. Cheerleaders also tend to be the ones who volunteer to sponsor clubs like Model U.N., STEM Club, and Future Business Leaders of America. 
  2. The Curmudgeon.  Curmudgeons long for the days when teachers were the gods of their classrooms and students knew their place.  Strict disciplinarians, their expectations are as high as their patience for misbehaviour is low: students are expected to arrive promptly, attend silently, and raise their hands only if they suspect they are suffering an aneurysm. On the one hand, the Curmudgeon's methods are antiquated and opposed to almost every "best practice" introduced over the last 50 years; on the other hand, the combination of high expectations and relentless fear can be highly motivating to some students.  Curmudgeons are easy to smoke out - at your next staff meeting, simply praise, in a loud voice, any current educational fad, and listen for the teachers who snort in derision.
  3. The Ditz.  Perpetually flustered, Ditzes always seems to be a little surprised and disconcerted to find themselves in charge of a classroom.  Surrounded by piles of unsorted, ungraded student work, they spend the first 5 minutes of every class looking for the warmup activity they've somehow misplaced and end every class several seconds after the bell has rung with an impossibly rushed series of last-minute stream-of-consciousness instructions: "Everyone put your papers in the tray and remember to take a study guide before you go and push your tables back where they were and turn in your homework before you leave and if you need to retake the test don't forget to stay after school and no one leaves until the floor is clean!"  Homework, tests, projects and grades are haphazard things, with constantly shifting deadlines and vague expectations. 
  4. The Drowning Man. Pity the Drowning Man! Despite the most earnest and sincere of intentions, these teachers are so hopelessly mired in a quicksand of paperwork, overdue grades, and missed deadlines that they can barely keep their heads above water.  Drowning Men are easily recognizable by the look of  sad desperation in their eyes as they pass you at a stumbling run-walk in the hall, mumbling things like "why the hell would they schedule the kid-talk for Rudolfo at the same exact time I'm supposed to be at the IEP for Jenna?" trailing post-it note reminders in their wake like an comets trails chunks of ice.  The theme of every Drowning Man's classroom is "half finished" - from the half-finished bulletin board on the wall to the half-finished stack of copying in their chair; from the half-cleaned pile of glass labwear piled next to their sink to the half-graded stack of essays bulging out of their overstuffed carpetbags. 
  5. The Emo.  The Emo's objective is to make sure every student feels special and loved. You know this because, somewhere on the wall of their classroom, there will be a posters that says, "You are special" and "You are loved" - probably nestled between posters of kittens and smiling scarecrows.  The Emo's class rules include such admonitions as "Be a Good Friend" and "Do Your Best." Good luck finding their desk, because it's likely to be buried under pictures of family/former students/pets, "#1 Teacher" mugs/figurines, and a 365 Reasons to Love a Teacher desk calendars. Ask an Emo for a pencil and they'll selflessly loan you their very favorite, most special pen ... but be sure you return it, because Emo's cry at the drop of a hat, especially when students disappoint them 
  6. The Martha Stewart. You get the feeling that teaching is merely the price that Martha Stewarts pay for all the fun they derive from decorating their classrooms. Given dollar store bargains and unlimited washi tape, Martha Stewarts can hack basically any classroom need.  As teachers, they tend to assign projects that require construction paper, glitter, and mad origami skills.  If every class has its own color coded supplies, if you change the decorative theme of your classroom more than 4 times a year, or if you have a Pinterest board devoted to classroom organization, then you may be a Martha Stewart. 
  7. The Sigma Six. Sigma Sixes, like their corporate peers, are models of professional excellence. They eat data, drink statistics, and breathe best practices. Their classrooms look like teaching Centers of Excellence: walls hung with word walls and anchor charts; technology strategically deployed at the optimum student:computer ratio; desks arrange to maximize instructional efficiency.  At CLT meetings, they're the ones spouting sentences such as: "What we need here is a research-based strategy for improving metacognition in our students with executive processing deficits." Their mastery of social skills tends to determine whether Sigma Sixes are beloved or loathed by their colleagues.
  8. The Shill. Shills aspire to be Sigma Sixes, but are held back by their tragic gullibility. For Shills, alas, truly believe in the efficacy of every new educational fad. There's not an educational celebrity or book-of-the-month they haven't at one time or another worshipped as the next "one ring to rule them all." Over time, their teaching style resembles a schizophrenic tapestry of constantly changing educational strategies - one year, the Shill's classes are engrossed in self-directed reading; the next year, every activity incorporates a Kagan strategy; the year after that, the kids are rotating in a confused daze through differentiated centers. Administrators tend to love Shills because their unique blend of gullibility and zeal makes them perfect proselytizers for their whatever new educational initiative their county/state has required their schools to adopt.
  9. The Subversive.  Dedicated to thwarting authority, Subversives are the most likely of the archetypes to skip out on staff meetings, bus duty, and required professional development. In the classroom, they teach what, when, and how they want, regardless of pacing guides, unit plans, or administrative guidance.  At staff meetings, they'll be the ones wearing Hawaiian shirts or teeshirts emblazoned with dry, learned puns. Their teaching style tends towards sarcasm and irony, and their decorating scheme towards the eclectic: old concert posters, wartime propoganda posters, a laboratory skeleton attired in a boa and mardi gras beads. Of all the teacher types, Subversives are the most likely to assign banned books as required reading, facilitate Socratic seminars on race relations, and entertain their class with spectacular chemical experiments of dubious safety.  
  10. The Whiner. As their name suggests, Whiners thrive on a diet of unsatisfactory students, unreasonable administrators, overdemanding parents, rude colleagues, ridiculous educational expectations, and perceived slights. They also tend to believe that their complaints gain in validity the more frequently they are repeated; thus, having formulated a gripe, they tend to restate it over and over again until interrupted by aforementioned rude colleagues.  New, innocent teachers often make the mistake of assuming that Whiners are in search of guidance and good advice; soon, however, they realize that their efforts to alleviate the Whiner's grievance(s) tend to be greeted with resentment rather than relief. Note that Whiners aren't necessarily bad teachers - they just thrive on a diet of unrelieved disappointment.
  11. The Zombie.  Like their namesakes, Zombies are the remnants of creatures that once lived, breathed and loved, but that have perished and are now insensate hulks. They may imitate the motions of teaching, but Zombies are dead inside, either exhausted by overwork, burned out by stress, or drained of their passion, vampire-like, by the pervasive apathy of those around them. Since they have given up on complaining (along with everything else), busy administrators sometimes fail to note their comotose state, thus dooming legions of children to soulless, mindless instruction. Truly, the only humane thing to do is to force them out into the real world, where they will either discover a new passion for hunting brains or sink quietly into their graves, buried with an engraved "Congratulations on your retirement!" faux gold clock laid upon their chests where their hearts used to reside.

1/19/2016

Book Look - A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki




On the surface, this is the tale of a modern-day author (Ruth) who discovers, washed up on the shore of her remote Canadian island homestead, a journal written some 10-20 years earlier by a suicidal Japanese teenager (Nao), with which she spends the rest of the novel reading and interacting. What’s less clear is the extent to which we’re meant to believe that the process of reading the journal somehow draws Ruth & Nao’s parallel universes close enough that they momentarily intersect, enabling the two women to inadvertently alter each other’s fates.

Which is not to imply that I didn’t enjoy the novel. On the contrary, I found much of this tale engrossing and beguiling. I dare you not to ache for poor Nao, whose tale of trying to navigate a Japanese adolescence ruled by ruthless competition, savage bullying and weird fetishes is so awful, it makes you feel like American schools and culture may be doing something right after all. Or for her poor father, plunged into a life of poverty, shame, and degradation by a capitalist society with no room for ethics and a culture with no tolerance for non-conformity. Or her father’s uncle, an earnest university student dragged away from his studies during the final days of WW2 to be sacrificed as a Kamakazi pilot on the alter of patriotic pride by his country’s sadistic rulers.

In contrast, Ruth’s story is a lot less dramatic – she’s recently lost her mother, she misses living in NYC, she’s got an epic case of writer’s block, she lives on a lush but isolated island with a bunch of “characters,” one of whom is her husband, an auto-didact, nuveau-hippie preoccupied with environmental issue. Because of this, the novel for me felt a little lop-sided – the chapters dedicated to Ruth’s life coming off as rather pale and self-indulgent in comparison to the emotionally rich chapters dedicated to Nao’s narrative.

As I’ve said, however, my problem with this story isn’t that it lacks either heart or good storytelling. Rather, it’s the author’s approach to magical realism that throws me. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from reading Marquez, Chabon and other artists of the craft, it’s that magical realism works best when you don’t try to explain it. Ozeki, on the other hand, buries us with possible explanations, everything from Zen philosophy to quantum physics, Proustian metaphysics and ancestor worship. I think the juxtaposition is meant to highlight common themes, but I’m not sure that the explication required to drag these elements into the story (especially the final chapters) doesn’t detract rather than add to the novel’s overarching theme, which seem to be that time may be fluid, but love, sacrifice and loss are eternal.

1/08/2016

A Thousand Words - Science: Ruining Everything Since 1543

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SOURCE: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/aa/f9/7b/aaf97bb5b951019f15f340ed9c7166dc.jpg

1/01/2016

2015 in Review: Top Stories in News, Sports, and Culture


As I've done for the past 5 years or so, have decided to wrap up the year with a summary of the top events of 2015 in news, sports, and culture. The information below is drawn from 30-40 disparate websites plus my own recollection, so I'm not claiming any ownership of the content. However, the editorial choices (what to include, what to exclude) are entirely mine, and undoubtedly reveal all sorts of inadequately concealed preferences and biases. My primary value-added is in bringing all of it together on one page, which I've started making a practice of sharing in case others find this format useful as well.  

I'm by nature an optimist, but there's really no way to sugar-coat this: 2015 was a terrible year, characterized by war, violence, oppression, discrimination, and climate disaster.  Not an particularly easy year to look back on, but perhaps reflecting on our mistakes of the past year will help us to avoid them in the coming year?  In truth, this almost never works, but I keep hoping.

TOP U.S. NEWS STORIES OF 2015
  1.  The Presidential Campaign – Democratic Update. To no one’s surprise, Hillary Clinton is leading the Democratic field by lengths, despite lingering kerfuffles over her role in Benghazi and the revelation that, during her term as Secretary of State, she sent work-related from a home email address. What does seem to have taken the political pundits by surprise is the popularity (especially among millennials) of Bernie Sanders and his socialist message of social justice. After decades of middle-of-the-road candidates, Democrats seem to be enjoying the novelty of an extreme left-wing candidate in the race.  For a while it looked like VP Joe Biden might give Hillary a run for her money, but he eventually declined the opportunity, citing family issues including the recent death of a son. Oh, and there’s a third guy running for the nomination, former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, but mostly he just shows up at debates to complain about how little attention he’s afforded at debates.
  2. The Presidential Campaign – Republican Update.  Meanwhile, a field of 13 or so candidates (including, in alphabetical order: Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Ben Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, John Kasich, George Pataki, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum, Donald Trump, and Scott Walker) hasn’t prevented likely Republican voters from choosing the least qualified possible candidate, Donald Trump, as their front-runner.  Trump’s outrageous statements about immigrants (most of them are criminals), women (“All women flirt with me … that’s to be expected”), and Muslims (we should stop letting them into the U.S.) seem to be increasing rather than undermining his popularity. As I write this, the situation has become so desperate that the Republican party elders appear to have begun viewing Ted Cruz as a reasonable alternative.  Meanwhile, political pundits are salivating at the increasingly likely prospect of a brokered Republican convention, a spectacle the country hasn’t experienced in decades.
  3. Racial Unrest. Picking up where Ferguson left off, 2015 saw racial tensions increase as more incidents of police violence against black citizens were exposed.  The death of 9 innocent worshippers in an attack on a Charleston church by a white suspect who had hoped to ignite a race war prompted a U.S.-wide reassessment of the role of the Confederate Flag as a symbol of hate.   As a result, many edifices/organizations named after Confederate heroes (including roads & schools) adopted name changes, and South Carolina finally agreed to stop flying the Confederate flag over their state capital building.  However, the most significant racial protests occurred in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Grey, who died in the back of a police van.  These incidents led to the blossoming of a new movement, #BlackLivesMatter, which has lasted long enough to be officially proclaimed a Thing but which is still new enough that the ultimate manner and fashion of the movement is still being shaped.  At least one hopes that street riots and shopping mall sit-ins will eventually give way to something more politically and socially effective.  In total, police killed 1,125 people over the course of the year – this being the first year that such statistics were maintained.
  4. Climate Change. Decades after Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, at least some in Congress seem finally to have accepted that climate change is real.  What gave it away, guys – the freakishly frigid weather in the Midwest? The devastating on-going drought in California? The record fire season in the southwest? Data indicating that the summer of 2015 was the hottest ever recorded? Appallingly, however, at least 7 of the 13 Republican presidential candidates either feel that climate change is not a threat or that it’s an elaborate hoax organized by 2 million scientists across the globe.
  5. Gun Crimes.  The world witnessed another year of ghastly mass shootings. Incidents included 130 killed in a planned ISIS attack on three sites in Paris; 12 killed in an attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hedbo in retaliation for the magazine printing cartoon images of Mohammed; 27 killed in a mass shooting at a Mali hotel by Al Qaeda assassins; 14 killed in a mass shooting in San Bernardino by a married team of radicalized Muslims living in America; 3 killed in an attack on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs by a mentally ill gentleman who called himself “a warrior for the babies”; 9 killed in a shootout between various biker gangs and police at a Waco Texas biker bar; 3 killed in a killed in Colorado Springs while engaged in the politically radical process of simply watching a movie.  Statistics suggest that mass shootings actually peaked in 1929, but it’s hard not to feel under assault when every week seemed to bring some new report of gun crime.
  6. Gay Marriage.  The Supreme Court required all states to allow gay partners to marry.  Which, alas, didn’t stop a Rowan County Kentucky clerk from snatching 15 minutes of fame by refusing to issue licenses for same sex marriages in spite of the Supreme Court ruling

TOP WORLD NEWS STORIES OF 2014
  1.  The War on ISIS/AlQueda/Terror.  ISIS kicked off the year in typically grim fashion by posting online videos of mass beheadings and live burnings. Over the course of the year, however, focus shifted to the ongoing war in Syria. Syrian rebels, supported by the U.S. and other allied countries, battled the remnants of Syria’s government forces, supported by Russia.  In total, Syria has seen 3,123 airstrikes since a US-led campaign began in September 2014. An additional 6,054 airstrikes have been made in Iraq in an attempt to defeat Islamic State militants in the region, the group says.
  2. Syrian Refugee Crisis.  Meanwhile, a total of 4.4 million Syrian refugees have been registered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The vast majority of them are in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, though 2016 saw floods of immigrants attempting to resettle in Europe by way of beleaguered Greece. Though the U.S. mostly escaped terrorist attacks in 2015, Trump and others have called for closing our doors to Syrian refugees lest terrorists use this as a way to sneak into the country.  Thank goodness the rest of the world hasn’t been so niggardly: Germany, Canada, and Scotland in particular have made a point of welcoming Syrian refugees into their nations
  3. European Union Instability. A historic referendum, jointly proposed by the European Commission, IMF and ECB, to decide if Greece would accept bailout conditions was held in July. As a result of the referendum the bailout conditions were rejected by a majority 61 percent of Greek voters, forcing the resignation of a number of high-profile Greek politicians, including finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, and a renegotiation of the conditions. After 17 hours of talks, Eurozone and Greek leaders reached a provisional agreement on a third bailout, saving Greece from bankruptcy, and keeping the country in the EU.  Oh, and speaking of Europe, Scotland voted not to succeed from Great Britain
  4. Middle East Update.  Over the summer, the U.S. announced an agreement with Iran to halt that country’s nuclear program.  No one believes the deal will curtail Iran’s nuclear aspirations, but everyone’s hoping the plan will at least delay the inevitable.  Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu …
  5. Climate Change. 180+ world leaders gathered in Paris to participate in COP21, negotiations designed to cap climate change at 2oC by capping emissions, slowing deforestation, and bribing developing countries not to make the problem worse.  Scientists studying the final agreement have ascertained that the identified cuts will come nowhere near to capping climate change at 2oC, but “it’s a step in the right direction.”

PEOPLE WHO HAD A GOOD 2014
  1. Women who wish to serve in the military, thanks to a new Pentagon policy opening up all military positions – including SEAL and special forces jobs – to U.S. citizens of both genders
  2. Pope Francis, who continues to garner the respect of non-Catholics by advocating that countries work together towards solving pressing world problems including hatred, poverty, and climate change.
  3. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who announced that he will be donating $45B (yes, that billion with a “B”) to charity.
  4. Mark Jenner, who boldly renamed himself Caitlyn Jenner and won the Arthur Ashe Courage Award for his role in introducing transgendered people into the mainstream.
  5.  Infamous Mexican drug lord “El Chapo” briefly captured headlines by managing to escape, for the second time, from the maximum security prison in which he was held.  Somehow, no one the large, elaborate tunnel leading away from his cell.
  6. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, who gave birth to an adorable little girl, named Charlotte.
  7. Jimmy Carter, who earlier in the year announced that melanoma had spread to his brain; then, months later, announced that the cancer had completely disappeared. Proving that sometimes good things do happen to good people.
  8. Chinese couples who, by law, may now have up to two children, thanks to the Chinese government’s lifting of the long-time ban on having more than one.

PEOPLE WHO HAD A BAD 2014
  1. The Minnesota dentist who travelled to Zimbabwe to bag himself a lion but somehow managed to shoot Cecil, the sole beloved member of that species in the whole country.
  2. Subscribers to the Ashley Madison website, which promised to confidentially connect spouses interested in cheating, after a security breach revealed their names to the world – including their clueless spouses.
  3. Volkeswagon, which “inadvertently” installed devices in new vehicles that allowed the vehicles to cheat on emissions tests.  Whoops – our bad!
  4.  Men and women aged 45-54 with less than a college degree, who saw their mortality rate increase markedly. Researchers point to problems with legal and illegal drugs, alcohol, and suicide.  Prior to 2013, death rates for both these groups had been dropping steadily, and at a faster rate than other groups. 
  5. Miss Universe Pageant host Steve Harvey, who accidentally named the 1st runner up as the winner and then had to take the crown away from her to present to the actual winner.
  6. Subway spokesman Jared Fogle, the awkward lad who landed the spokesman gig by managing to lose 70lbs eating only Subway subs, who was sentenced to 15yrs in prison for possessing child pornography.
  7. Bill Cosby, whose attempts to deny the allegations of some two dozen women that he drugged them in order to obtain sex were seriously undermined by the release of an old Associated Press report in which Cosby admitted to drugging women in order to obtain sex.
  8.  That guy who pretended to be offended that the Starbucks holiday cup was just plain red, triggering an internet kerfuffle in which much ado was made about nothing.
  9.  SeaWorld, which – faced with non-stop allegations of cruelty and mysterious deaths -  finally gave up attempting to justify their killer whale shows and announced that they would be suspending all such shows by the end of 2015.
  10.  John Boehner, who resigned his seat as the Speaker of the House in October, exhausted by the task of trying to unite the Republican party as a political entity. (Or maybe this belongs under “People who had a good 2015?”)
  11. 14yr old high schooler, Ahmed Mohamed, who brought a homemade clock to school and was hauled away in handcuffs by police on suspicion of having built a bomb.  This one, at least, has a happy ending: President Obama invited the student to the White House to talk about technology innovation.
  12. Martin Shkreli, the pharmaceutical boss who purchased a drug from a dying drug company and then raised the price 50 fold, earning himself the nickname “the most hated man in America” … and was then found guilty of Ponzi-scheme type stock manipulations. Because karma.

NOTABLE DEATHS
  1. Ernie Banks, baseball player
  2. Sandy Berger, national security advisor to Bill Clinton
  3. Yogi Berra, baseball catcher & Yankees coach
  4. Julian Bond, civil rights pioneer, NAACP chairman
  5. Sarah Kemp Brady, gun control advocate
  6. Edward W. Brooke, first black in U.S. history to win popular election to Senate
  7. Jackie Collins, author
  8. Wes Craven, writer & film director (Nightmare on Elm Street)
  9. Mario Cuomo, governor of New York
  10. Little Jimmy Dickens, oldest cast member of Grand Ole Opry
  11. Anita Ekberg, Swedish actress & sex symbol
  12. Frank Gifford, football player & Monday Night Football announcer
  13. Leslie Gore, singer (It’s My Party, You Don’t Own Me)
  14. Dean Jones, actor (Love Bug)
  15. B.B. King, blues musician
  16. Ben E. King, lead singer of the Drifters
  17. Christopher Lee, actor (Dracula, Lord of the Rings)
  18. Anne Meara, actress
  19. Tom Moore, cartoonist (Archie)
  20. John Forbes Nash Jr., mathematician
  21. Jean Nidetch, Weight Watchers founder
  22. Leonard Nimoy, actor (Star Trek)
  23. Maureen O’Hara, actress (Miracle on 34th Street)
  24. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, pro wrestler
  25. Terry Pratchett, fantasy writer (Discworld)
  26. Paul Prudhomme, Cajun chef
  27. Amelia Boynton Robinson, civil rights activist
  28. Oliver Sacks, neurosurgeon & author
  29. Helmut Schmidt, former West Germany chancellor
  30. Rev. Robert H. Schuller, televangelist
  31. Omar Sharif, actor (Lawrence of Arabia, Dr. Zhivago)
  32. Percy Sledge, singer (When a Man Loves a Woman)
  33. Ken Stabler, football player
  34. Blaze Starr, burlesque icon
  35. Fred Thompson, actor (Law & Order, Hunt for Red October), Senator, presidential candidate
  36. Allen Toussaint, jazz performer and composer (Lady Marmalade)
  37. Dick Van Patten, actor (Eight is Enough)

SPORTS NEWS
  1. The New England Patriots triumphed over Seattle Seahaws, 28-24, in the Superbowl, but their victory was tarnished by allegations that the team knowingly used under-inflated footballs in the AFC championship game – aka “deflate-gate”.  And that hugely controversial final play in which the Seahawks, on second and goal with 26 seconds left in the game, rather than trust the ball to their human UPS truck running back, Marshawn Lynch, decided to throw a pass which was (predictably) intercepted. And don’t even get me started about the halftime show featuring Katy Perry flanked by two guys in shark costumes ….
  2.  In the baseball world series, the New York Mets were defeated by the Kansas City Royals, a match that pitted a team that last won the World Series in 1985 against a team that last won the World Series in 1986.  The Washington Nationals had been picked to be the team to beat, but injuries, cold bats, and dissent in the dugout resulted in merely a so-so season, which culminated in the official firing of Coach Matt Williams.  (However, none of this interfered with Bryce Harper totting up a brilliant season, which culminated in his being named NBL Player of the Year.)
  3. Promoters orchestrated the mega-fight of all mega-fights, in which Floyd Mayweather defeated Manny Pacquiao in a unanimous decision.
  4. American Pharoah became the first horse in 37yrs to win horse racing’s Triple Crown
  5. The Duke Blue Devils triumphed in the 2015 NCAA Tournament, defeating Wisconsin 68-63.
  6. The chairman of FIFA, the world soccer association, was forced to step down due to allegations that he accepted bribes in exchange for choosing Qatar as the site of the 2022 World Cup.  Because there’s nothing fishy about choosing a country with no soccer tradition, no soccer stadiums, and summer temperatures in the 100oFs.
  7. The U.S. team unexpectedly walked away with the Woman’s World Cup in soccer, defeating Japan 5-2.  Many Americans were surprised to discover that the U.S. actually had a woman’s soccer team.
  8.  College football debuted its first College Football Playoff National Championship. Still not the 8-team playoff most purists were hoping for, but the matchup between Ohio State (winner of the Sugar Bowl) and Florida State (winner of the Rose Bowl) sure looked like a championship game.
  9. Serena Williams won, in the course of one year, the US Open, the Australia Open, the French Open, and Wimbledon – not for nothing was she named Sports Illustrated’s Person of the Year

TELEVISION 2014
  1. Television News
    1. In the wake of Jon Stewart’s retirement, The Daily Show was turned over to South African social comedian Trevor Noah.
    2. Speaking of fake news shows, Daily Show alumnus Larry Wilmore was given his own show, filling the spot vacated by Stephen Colbert, who departed for CBS to take over for retiring David Letterman
    3. “Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams was permanently dismissed after an investigation revealed inaccuracies in his account of being in a military helicopter under fire in Iraq. You’d think fact-checking wouldn’t be an onerous task when you’re the one in possession of the facts!
    4. Sharknado 3 caused a stir by devastating Washington D.C. and stranding David Hasslehoff on the moon.
  2. Best Television shows of 2015, according to critics
    1. Fargo (FX). Those kooky Midwesterners, with their funny accents and even quirkier crimes!
    2. Transparent
    3. The Americans. Little do the neighbors know that the nice family next door are actually deep-cover soviet spies
    4. Justified. Goes down smooth, like a really good Kentucky Bourbon
    5. Rectify
    6. Louis
    7. Game of Thrones (HBO). After three seasons, this show still knows how to shock viewers with an unexpected plot twist or death.
    8. Master of None (Netflix). Aziz Ansari’s breakout show does a great job of exploring how we treat and unconsciously stereotype others by race, age, gender, and nationality
    9. Silicon Valley (HBO), Talented but inexperienced nerds contend with the cutthroat world of high-tech startups
    10. Mr. Robot (USA). Through the eyes of its unreliable narrator, hacker-king Mr. Robot, the show explores corporate greed, drug use, social interaction, love, and betrayal.
    11. The Knick (Cinemax)
    12. The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix). After being locked away from the world for years by her cult-leader husband, Kimmy encounters the real world with a naivity and gusto as humorous as they are endearing
    13. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Now that Jon Stewart has moved on, our new best source for political satire that’s as smart as it is funny.
  3. Shows that ended their run in 2014
    1. 19 Kids and Counting. One wonders how many more kids the family might have added had reports not emerged of one of the tykes fondling girls, allegations which brought the show to an abrupt end
    2. Anger Management. Here’s hoping this will be the last we see of Charlie Sheen on prime-time\
    3. Boardwalk Empire. What a great ride it was!
    4. The Colbert Report.  At least we have the consolation of watching Steve Colbert hosting CBS’s late night show.
    5. Glee. The show never was able to recapture the charm of the first season
    6. Justified
    7. Mad Men.
    8. The Mentalist
    9. The Newsroom. Aaron Sorkin’s drama about the CAN News Night team will be missed
    10. Parenthood. Even devoted fans couldn’t save this one
    11. Parks & Recreation. A perennial hit with critics, this Amy Poehler mockumentary was never a hit in the ratings
    12. Sons of Anarchy
    13. Two and a Half Me
  4. The most-watched shows of 2015
    1. NFL Sunday Night Football
    2. The Big Bang Theory
    3. NCIS and NCIS:New Orleans
    4. Empire
    5. NFL Thursday Night Football
    6. NFL Sunday Pre-Kick
    7. Dancing with the Stars
    8. Madam Secretary
    9. Criminal Minds
    10. The Voice
    11. Blue Blood
    12. The Blacklist
    13. Scorpion
    14. The Voice
    15. OT
    16. Scandal
    17. 60 Minutes
    18. Hawaii 5-0
    19. The Good Wife
    20. Person of Interest
    21. Two and a Half Men
    22. Modern Family
    23. The Mentalist

MOVIES
  1. 86th annual Academy Awards
    1. Best picture: Birdman (other nominees: American Sniper, Boyhood, Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash)
    2. Actor: Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
    3. Actress: Julianne Moore, Still Alice
    4. Supporting actor: J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
    5. Supporting actress: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
  2. Best movies of the year, according to critics (SOURCE: WTOP, Washington DC)
    1. Bridge of Spies. Terrific spy tale with Tom Hanks reluctantly negotiating a spy swap with Russia during the Cold War
    2. Straight Oughta Compton. A docudrama about the controversial rap group N.W.A. – outstandingly timed to coincide with this year’s race riots and the swelling #BlackLivesMatter movement.
    3. Steve Jobs. Another docu-drama, this one focusing on the flawed man behind the genius.
    4. The Revenant. Leonardo DeCaprio as a frontiersman left for dead, surviving the frosty wilderness of 1820s Montana as he seeks revenge on the man who left him behind. But even the movie’s art house cred wasn’t enough to keep some critics from being appalled by the violence.
    5. Victoria. Tells the tale of a woman in Berlin and an innocent night of adventure that turns deadly. The film’s gimmick is that its creator filmed the whole thing to resemble one continuous shot
    6. Mad Max: Fury Road. I can’t believe I’m including a Mad Max film among top films of the year, but critics loved the filmmaking and I loved that the badass hero was a woman, Charlize Theron, on a mission to liberate a bunch of women taken as sex slaves.
    7. Creed.  Just when you thought the Rocky franchise had to be over, along comes Creed, which follows the career of Apollo Creed’s orphan son Adonis who moves to Philly to train under Rocky Balboa. The faces may have changed, but the fight action sequences and the tear-jerker finale are spot on
    8. Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Not sure whether the film truly deserves to be on this list or whether the expectations of critics were so low that this 7th film in the franchise felt like a cinematic triumph.
    9. Ex-Mechina. A tiny arty film about a mad scientist who creates a female I.A.
    10. The Hateful Eight.  This Quentin Tarantino Civil War pic doesn’t stray far from the ones that came before, including over-the-top violence, the overuse of overt symbolism, and constant vulgarity. Hey, at least someone’s keeping Samuel Jackson steadily employed.
    11. The Martian. Admit I loved this feel-good, God-Bless-America ode to the ingenuity of American scientists – in this case, Matt Damon as an astronaut inadvertently abandoned on Mars. So many marvelous quotes, my favorite of which might be “I’m going to have to science the shit out of this.”  It’s about time botanists got their 15mins of fame!
    12. Me & Earl & The Dyign Girl. Another Indie flick, a Juno-esque tale of a high schooler who spends his free time making parodies of classic movies with his best bud Earl until his life is changed forever by a cancer-ridden classmate. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, then you’ll cry some more
    13. Inside Out. This Pixar flick was more for adults than kids, taking us inside the head of an 11yr old girl as her parents uproot her from their Midwest home to relocate in San Francisco. Each personified emotion – sadness, fear, joy, disgust, anger – takes its turn narrating the events. Rarely has psychotherapy been so funny
    14. Brooklyn. The tale of Irish immigrants in 1950s Brooklyn, with that hoariest of romance tropes at its core: can Irish girl find happiness with Italian boyfriend? Of course they can!
    15. Room. Tells the tale of an abducted sex-slave trying to raise her rape-born son while simultaneously hiding from him the truth of his birth and their incarceration. One of those films that, regardless of its merits, leaves you feeling totally icky after you’ve seen it
    16. Love & Mercy. Yet another docu-drama, this one about the life of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, the group’s tragically doomed genius. A sensitive and moving study of what it’s like to struggle with mental illness – in case Russell Crowe’s A Beautiful Mind left you wanting more.
    17. Spotlight. Tells the true story of two Boston Globe journalists who won a Pulitzer Prize by uncovering the child sex-abuse scandal within the Catholic Church.  Their patient, fact-checking process reminds of us the days when journalists actually cared about reporting the truth.
  3. Best documentaries of the year, according to critics (SOURCE: Washington Post)
    1. Steve Jobs: Man in the Machine
    2. Red Army
    3. Cartel Land
    4. Hitchcock/Truffaut
    5. Batkid Begins
    6. Best of Enemies
    7. The Wolfpack
    8. He Named Me Malala
    9. Amy
    10. Listen to Me, Marlon
  4. Most popular movies of the year, according to ticket sales
    1. Jurassic World
    2. Avengers: Age of Ultron
    3. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (*predicted to overtake Jurassic World within the next month)
    4. Inside Out
    5. Furious 7
    6. Minions
    7. The Hunger Games: Mockinjay – Part 2
    8. The Martian
    9. Cinderella
    10. Spectre
    11. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation\
    12. Pitch Perfect 2
    13. Antman
    14. Home
    15. Hotel Transylvania
    16. 50 Shades of Grey
    17. The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water
    18. Straight Outta Compton
    19. San Andreas
    20. Mad Max: Fury Road
    21. The Divergent Series: Insurgent
    22. Kingsman: The Secret Service
    23. The Peanuts Movie
  5. Worst movies of the year
    1. Vacation. You wonder who was the idiot who actually imagined they could make National Lampoon’s Vacation even better.
    2. Ted 2. Because Seth MacFarlane’s first movie about a profanity spewing bear wasn’t painful enough?
    3. Mortdecai. Even Johnny Depp couldn’t save this cringeworthy attempt at a debonair, swinging sixties heist farce.
    4. Hot Pursuit. One day Reese Witherspoon is going to quietly buy up all the copies of this painfully bad attempt at a road trip movie and destroy them
    5. Get Hard. What could possibly be offensive about a movie in which Will Ferrell plays a privileged white guy asking Kevin Hart, the black guy who happens to work at his carwash, how to survive in prison?
    6. Fantastic Four. Proving that it IS possible to make a terrible movie with Marvel superheroes
    7. The Cobbler. Sometimes Adam Sandler gets away with preposterous premises; other times, like in this outing about a cobbler who literally becomes other people when he walks in their shoes, the result feels forced and a little icky.
    8. American Ultra. A spy film starring stoner teens?
    9. Taken 3. Liam Neeson visits the Bruce Willis well once too often
    10. The Loft. When a hooker turns up dead in a loft shared by five privileged white guys, friendships and loyalties are questions. By the end of this painfully paced movie, you’ll wish you were the hooker
    11. The Last Witch Hunter. So much for trying to make witches a thing
    12. The Forger.  Does this awful outing signal that John Travolta’s comeback is officially kaput?
    13. Hot Tub Time Machine 2. Really, is any explanation necessary?

ENTERTAINMENT (music, plays, books, etc.)
  1. Entertainment news
    1. Forget Taylor Swift and Katie Perry – 2015 was the year of Adele, whose smoky voice and jazzy stylings seemed to bring a new sophistication to pop.  Her 3rd album sold 5M copies in the first month; for reference, the last time a music album sold so quickly was when Adele released her 2nd album in 2011
    2. So many awesomely danceable songs! From Pharrell’s infectious “Happy” to Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off”; from Bruno Mars’s “Uptown Funk” to Walk The Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance”; from Maroon 5’s “Sugar” to Meghan Trainors “Lips are Moving” 
  2. Major Grammy winners
    1. Record of the year: Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me”
    2. Album of the Year – Beck’s “Morning Phase”
    3. Song of the Year – Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me”
    4. Best New Artist – Sam Smith
  3. 89th annual Tony awards, held in June (so, technically, most of the shows were 2014 hits, but still ….)
    1. Best Play – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (other nominees: Disgraced, Hand to God, Wolf Hall)
    2. Best Musical – Fun Home (other nominees: An American in Paris, Something Rotten, The Visit)
  4. Top grossing plays/musicals. 
    1. According to the Broadway League, the 2014-15 season (May 2014-May 2015 was best attended and highest grossing season in Broadway history. A total of 37 productions premiered during the season, including 15 musicals (10 new, 5 revivals), 20 plays (11 new, 9 revivals) and 2 specials.
    2. Highest grossing shows as of December 2015 included Hamilton, An American in Paris, Alladin, On Your Feet, School of Rock, The Book of Mormon, Wicked, and The Lion King, all of which were grossing above $1M per week.
  5. Groups nominated for induction into the R&R Hall of Fame: Ringo Star, the 5 Royales, the Paul Butterfied Blues Band, Green Day, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, Lou Reed, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Bill Withers
  6. Top Video Games: Assasins Creed: Victory; Battlefield: Hardline; Batman: Arkham Knight; Below; Bloodborne; Dying Light; Evolve; Game of Thrones; Halo 5: Guardians; Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number; King’s Quest; Legend of Zelda Wii U; Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain; Mortal Kombat; No Man’s Sky; The Order:1886; Overwatch; Persona 5; Pillars of Eternity; Project CARS; Rime; Rise of the Tomb Raider; Scalebound; Silent Hills; Splatoon; Star Fox; Star Wars Battlefront; Tides of Numenera; Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege; Tom Clancy’s The Division; Unchartered 4: A Thief’s End; The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt; Xenoblade Chronicles X
  7. Top books of the year
    1. Book news
      1. The literary community was rocked by the release of “Go Set a Watchman,” Harper Lee’s sequel to “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Never mind that Harper Lee is suffering from dementia, or that she repeatedly refused to release the purported sequel while in her right mind, or that the MS was suddenly and “miraculously” discovered by a greedy relative who instantly raced the MS into print, or that the book reads like a rough first draft of “To Kill a Mockingbird” ….  Not unexpectedly, many folks chose to take a pass on the sequel rather than have their veneration for Atticus Finch spoiled by an alternative version of the beloved tale in which he is revealed to possess racial reservations of his own.
    2. Fiction
      1. National Book Awards
        1. WINNER: Fortune Smiles, Adam Johnson (BBC)
        2. Refund, Karen Bender
        3. The Turner House, Angela Flournoy
        4. Fates & Furies, Lauren Groff (WP, Kirkus, Amazon)
        5. A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara (WP, Kirkus Review)
      2. Other Lists
        1. The Story of the Lost Child, Elena Ferrante (PW, BBC, Amazon)
        2. Delicious Foods, James Hannaham (PW)
        3. Imperium, Christian Kracht (PW)
        4. Crow Fair, Thomas McGuane (PW)
        5. Purity, Jonathan Franzen (WP, Amazon)
        6. Welcome to Braggsville, Geronimo Johnson (WP)
        7. A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories, Lucia Berlin (Kirkus)
        8. Incarnations, Susan Barker (Kirkus)
        9. The Story of My Teeth, Valeria Luiselli (Kirkus)
        10. The Book of Aron, Jim Shepard (WP, Kirkus)
        11. The Game of Love and Death, Martha Brockenbrough (Kirkus)
        12. The Tsar of Love and Techno (BBC)
        13. The Sunken Cathedral, Kate Walbert (BBC)
        14. Thirteen Ways of Looking, Colum McCann (BBC)
        15. Clarice Lispector, the Complete Stories (BBC)
        16. Golden Age, Jane Smiley (BBC)
        17. Gold Fame Citrus, Claire Vaye Watkins (BBC)
        18. An Ember in the Ashes, Sabaa Tahir (Amazon)
        19. The Nightengale (Amazon)
        20. The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins (Amazon)
        21. Seveneves, Neal Stephenson (Amazon)
        22. Mrs. Engels, Gavin McCrea (Amazon)
        23. The Sympathizer, Viet Thanh Nguyen (Amazon)Furiously Happy: A Funy Book About Horrible Things, Jenny Lawson (Amazon)
        24. Bull Mountain, Brian Panowich (Amazon)
        25. Between You and Me, Mary Norris (Amazon)
    3. Nonfiction
      1. National Book Award
        1. WINNER: Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coats (National Book Award Winner, PW, WP, Kirkus, Amazon)
        2. Hold Still, Sally Mann (WP, Amazon)
        3. The Soul of an Octopus, Sy Montgomery
        4. If Oceans Were Ink: An Unlikely Friendship and a Journey to the Heart of the Quran, Carla Power
        5. Ordinary Light, Tracy Smith (BBC)
      2. Other Lists
        1. The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt’s New World, Andrea Wulf (PW, Kirkus)
        2. Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, William Finnegan (PW, Amazon)
        3. The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson (PW)
        4. Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning, Timothy Snyder (PW)
        5. Beauty is a Wound, Eka Kurniawan (PW)
        6. Black Flags: The Rise of Isis, Joby Warrick (WP)
        7. Destiny & Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush, Jon Meacham (WP)
        8. Future Crimes: Everything is Connected, Everyone is Vulnerable, and What We Can Do About It, Marc Goodman (WP)
        9. Negroland, Margo Jefferson (WP)
        10. Whirlwind: The American Revolution and the War That Won It, John Ferling (Kirkus)
        11. H is for Hawk, Helen MacDonald (Kirkus, Amazon)
        12. The Deluge: The Great War, America, and the Remaking of the Global Order, Adam Tooze (Kirkus)
        13. Pacific, Simon Winchester (Kirkus)
        14. M Train, Patti Smith (BBC)
        15. Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family, Amy Ellis Nutt (Amazon)
        16. The Wright Brothers, David McCullough (Amazon)
        17. Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America, Jill Leovy (Amazon)
        18. The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey, Rinker Buck (Amazon)
CULTURE
  1. Selfies became a thing last year, but 2015 added new innovations to the craze, including the much-loathed selfie-stick, which allows for wider shots.
  2. Rolling Stone magazine was forced to apologize for a discredited story about an alleged rape at a University of Virginia fraternity house. Obviously proving that reports of sexual assaults on campuses are all fishy.
  3. Colleges battled over the necessity of issuing “trigger warnings” in advance of presenting content that students might find upsetting in any conceivable way.
  4.  Fashion trends: platinum hair, simple nail designs, frosted lipstick, clip-on man buns, glitter roots, coffin nails, and using shot glasses to “instantly” plump up lips (SOURCE: Huffpost Style)
  5. Top Google searches of 2015: Paris Under Attack, Star Wars, Adele, 2015 Election, Caitlyn Jenner, Letterman/Stewart/Late Night TV, Maryweather vs. Pacquiao, Woman’s World Cup, Oscar results, Guns in America, Royals Win World Series, Cecil the Lion, Black Lives Matter, same sex marriage, the dress (see memes), restored relations with Cuba, Syrian migrants, Iran Nuclear deal, notable 2015 deaths, Nepal earthquake, Princess Charlotte, Pope Francis’s trip to America, Volkeswagon, Water on Mars
  6. Top hashtags in 2015: #PrayForParis, #LoveWins, #BlackLivesMatter, #CharlieHebdo, #JeSuisCharlie, #jobs, #Quran, #ISIS, #Earthquake, and #SarahBlandCurrent price of postage stamp: $0.49

MEMES OF THE YEAR

  1. Sadly, the meme of the year was a picture of a dress, the color of which no one could seem to agree upon. (Black & blue … or gold and white?) Something about light waves and optical illusions.
  2. Tribute videos.  It seems like just about everyone filmed their own version of Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off and/or Bruno Mars’s Uptown Funk.  And don’t get me started on all those videos of folks trying to replicate Drake’s Hotline Bling moves.
  3. Left Shark.  Katie Perry has given the world many things: crazy-catchy songs, retina-searing outfits, over-the-top concerts. But our favorite gift might be Left Shark, the backup dancer who awkwardly grooved his way into our hearts during Perry’s Superbowl halftime show in February
  4. Cheryl’s birthday.  In April, some called this Singapore brainteaser the math equivalent of “the dress”.  The challenge was to figure out Cheryl’s birthday from the enigmatic clues provided.
  5. The Kylie Jenner Challenge. We have the youngest of the Kardashians to thank for this one – how to use a shot glass to achieve a pillowy pout.  People posted their own efforts to replicate the effect, with often ghastly results
  6. Donald Trump’s Google History. Folks had a great time inventing Trump google searches, from “What country is Latifa queen of?” to “How to president.”
  7. Goats in Trees.  Because for some reason it took until 2015 for us to realize that goats climb trees. 
  8. Pizza Rat.  It all started with a video of a rat trying to drag a piece of pizza across a subway platform, before morphing into all sorts of parodies.
  9. “Netflix and Chill.” According to Know Your Meme, the phrase first popped up online in October 2014 but picked up steam throughout 2015, inspiring tons of parody pictures. My personal favorites – animals snuggling with their favorite stuffed animals.
  10. A post of Taylor Swift posing with 10 beautiful friends prompted the meme “squad goals,” the purpose of which was to pose with a group of your own most photogenic friends.  You can imagine the results


BUSINESS NEWS
  1. China’s Slowdown. It took five years for people to become really worried over China's slow-motion economic deceleration. The freak-out finally hit global markets in August. Between Aug. 10 and Aug. 25, the Dow Jones industrial average plunged 11 percent on fears that everyone had underestimated China's troubles and their impact on the rest of the world. China's deceleration is part of an official plan to shift from unsustainable growth from exports and wasteful investment to slower but steadier expansion based on consumer spending. Yet its leaders tarnished their reputation for economic stewardship by clumsily intervening to prop up plunging stock prices. Then they shocked and confused markets by devaluing the Chinese currency. Economists began to conclude that China's official story -- that its economy was growing at around a brisk 7 percent a year -- was far too rosy and that growth might be closer to 5 percent or 6 percent and likely to weaken further. (CBS News)
  2. Collapsing oil prices.  Oil prices tumbled from $98 a barrel two years ago to under $35. The biggest factor was unrestrained production across the world combined with an increase in domestic supply due to fracking. Bad for climate change but great for the budgets of ordinary Americans, who paid around $2/gallon for gas throughout the year (CBS News)
  3. The End of Free Money.  When the Fed cut short-term interest rates to near zero in December 2008, the American economy was losing hundreds of thousands of jobs a month. The financial system had nearly toppled. The rate cut was an emergency response. No one expected it to last. But it did -- for seven years. On Dec. 16, the Fed declared that the economy was finally healthy enough to withstand a modest rate hike: It raised the short-term rate it controls from a range of zero to 0.25 percent to one of 0.25 percent to 0.50 percent. But with Europe and Japan still struggling and China decelerating, the European Central Bank, the Bank of Japan and the People's Bank of China had gone in the reverse direction: They acted to continue or expand their easy-money policies. (CBS News)
  4. Growth of the “gig” economy.  The growth of the ride service Uber ignited a debate about the "gig economy," in which people don't hold regular jobs in traditional workplaces but rather work as some version of a freelancer: Uber drivers tooling around town in their own cars. Homebound app designers laboring to produce a hit for the Apple Store. Carpenters selling their services on the website Thumbtack. Supporters say the gig economy drives innovation and gives workers unparalleled freedom. Critics worry that it lets companies label workers as "independent contractors" to avoid providing overtime, workers' compensation or unemployment insurance. The government issued guidelines meant to clarify when companies can designate workers as contractors. Still, for now, it says barely 10 percent of American workers are self-employed, little changed from a decade ago. (CBS News)
  5. Mega Corporate Mergers. Corporate America received an overhaul in 2015: Companies announced a wave of mergers and acquisitions worth nearly $4.8 trillion, busting a record set in 2007, according to Dealogic. The number of mega-mergers worth $10 billion or more also set a record. The list includes some whoppers: Arch-rival brewers Budweiser and Miller Genuine Draft would be joined by a $106 billion deal between Anheuser-Busch InBev and SABMiller. Dow Chemical and DuPont announced a merger worth $60 billion in a desperate bid to counter shrunken commodities prices. Pfizer and Allergan reached a $149 billion deal to bring Pfizer's Viagra and Allergan's Botox under one corporate roof. Dell is buying the data-storage company EMC for $66 billion. Walgreens offered to buy rival drugstore chain Rite Aid for $9.4 billion, a deal that raised questions among regulators at the Federal Trade Commission. (CBS News)
  6. Mark Zuckerberg’s Dad Break. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced he will take two months of paternity leave after his daughter's birth, a strong statement from one of the busiest and most powerful U.S. executives on the importance of family time. Silicon Valley technology firms have rushed to extend parental leave allowances and other benefits in an attempt to recruit and retain talent, but many workers do not take advantage for fear of falling behind at work or missing out on promotions. Zuckerberg's decision is unusual among high-level tech executives, especially men. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer took two weeks off after her first child's birth in 2012, and when she announced she was pregnant with identical twin girls in September, she said she would be taking limited maternity leave and "working throughout." (MSN)
  7. The End of Cash. Forty percent of commerce is still done with cash and check, but the percentage is slipping every year. Apple CEO Tim Cook turned heads this November during his keynote at Trinity College, Dublin when he told the assembled that "your kids will not know" what cash is. The remark seemed to substantiate reports that Apple is in discussions with several large banks to develop a P2P banking system that would allow users to seamlessly transact payments between wireless devices. Facebook and Google are also rumored to be developing similar P2P payment systems, setting the stage for a truly competitive market sooner than we may have thought. The success of the November IPO of Square, the mobile payments company co-founded by Jack Dorsey, and the continued growth of PayPal's Venmo, which plans to fully launch in 2017, means that there's a lot money riding on whether your kids will know what cash is. (MSN)
  8. Huge Trade Pact Ratified. Covering 40 percent of the world's economy, The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement was reached in October after 5 years of negotiations. The deal between Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam has faced criticism over its expansive scope, secrecy of negotiations and controversial clauses that have come to light. Though Obama has painted the deal in part as a way of stopping China from writing the rules of the global economy, China's Ministry of Commerce broadly welcomed the agreement in the hope it would "promote and make common contributions to Asia-Pacific trade, investment and economic development". Lawmakers in the United States and other TPP countries must approve the deal. (MSN)
  9. America's Economy on the Mend.  America's slow recovery following the 2008 recession had some good news in October as nonfarm payrolls recorded their largest gain since December 2014, bringing the unemployment rate to a 7-1/2-year low of 5.0 percent, the lowest since April 2008. Meanwhile, the number of unemployed persons to job openings also hit its lowest since 2007. The numbers, plus gains in housing and wage growth, paved the way for a Fed rate hike in December, and a move away from the crisis-level interest rate policy that has dominated the last 7 years. (MSN)
  10. Minimum Wage Reform.  Throughout the year thousands of protesters took to the streets across the U.S. to demand a $15-an-hour minimum wage and union rights for fast food workers, a campaign intended to attract support from national political candidates ahead of the 2016 elections. The federal minimum wage currently stands at $7.25, but a number of cities nationwide have taken up minimum wage ordinances. (MSN)

TECHNOLOGY NEWS
  1. Security Breaches.  Every week seemed to bring news of some corporation’s servers being hacked, compromising the personal information of hundreds/thousands/millions of customers.  Perhaps the most egregious of these was an attack on the OPM (Office of Personnel Management), which compromised the background security check information on 2.5 million government employees with clearances.
  2. Microsoft.  Microsoft released Windows 10, whose primary claim to fame was the ability to turn Windows 8 back into Windows 7.  I wish I were joking.
  3. Rollout of the Apple Watch. The Apple Watch went on sale in April, threatening to shake up the market for fitness bands and other wearable gadgets. Prices start at $350 and go up to $10,000 for luxury models. The smartwatch received mixed reviews. Some critics questioned whether it was useful enough to justify buying. Apple still won't say how many watches it has sold. But Wall Street analysts believe Apple sold about 4 million smartwatches from June through September, up from the unexpectedly strong 3.6 million that International Data Corp. estimated Apple sold from April to June. (CBS News)
  4. Drones. Amazon made headlines by announcing that it would exploring the feasibility of having drones assume delivery duties. Indeed, drones were everywhere this year, including the front yard of the White House, prompting the FAA to decree that all drones now have to be registered with the U.S. government.
  5. Net Neutrality. Cable and telecom companies fought it out with regulators over control of the Internet. The Federal Communications Commission issued "net neutrality" rules designed to bar Internet service providers from offering preferential treatment to sites that pay for faster service. Consumer groups and content companies such as Netflix support the new rules. But service providers such as Comcast and Verizon say the rules would limit innovation and discourage investment in broadband infrastructure. In 2014, a federal appeals court had struck down the FCC's previous attempt to mandate net neutrality. But a key federal judge who was part of that 2014 decision signaled in December that the agency's revised plan might pass muster. (CBS News)
  6. Driverless Cars. Automakers and tech companies such as Google, Alibaba and Baidu scrambled to develop cars that would drive themselves. Nissan let reporters take a test drive in a self-driving car. Electric carmaker Tesla rolled out technology that allows for automated braking and lane-changes. As more functions are automated, experts say some cars should eventually be capable of driving themselves, perhaps by 2025. Mercedes and Infiniti already offer cars that can perform some functions -- steering themselves, for example, and staying within lanes at highway speeds. Cadillac is expected to offer hands-free driving next year. In 2017, Audi plans to offer low-speed, hands-free driving that works during traffic jams.

SCIENCE/ENVIRONMENTAL NEWS
  1. Climate Change. Evidence of climate change continues to flood in, exacerbated by dozens of recently identified feedback loops – for example, the release of methane gas from melting tundra – that threaten to hasten the process.  November saw the formation of the strongest El Nino the planet has ever experienced, a phenomenon that is likely to majorly impact global weather patterns well into the new year.  Still to be determined: whether warming Pacific Ocean waters are responsible for the spawning of October’s Hurricane Patricia, the strongest typhoon ever recorded.
  2. New Horizons. The New Horizons interplanetary probe, having travelled over 3 billion miles in 10 years, finally reached Pluto and immediately began sending back scores of gorgeous if perplexing photos of the planetoid.  Meanwhile, the Rosetta spacecraft (somewhat) successfully landed on a comet, and evidence of water on Mars – not just billions of years ago, but flowing on its surface right now – grew stronger than ever.
  3. GMOs.  After years of contention, the US Food and Drug Administration approved the sale of genetically modified potatoes and apples, proclaiming them perfectly safe and capable of offering “nutritional benefits.” Coincidentally, 2015 was the year that Bill Nye retracted his reservations about genetically modified crops, proclaiming that their benefits – particularly with respect to providing food for starving peoples – outweighed potential concerns.
  4. A link between immune responses and Alzheimers? Scientists have confirmed that depression, autism and Alzheimer’s disease all have something in common; they have been linked to inflammation in the brain.  In other words, the immune response that helps us fight infections appears to sometimes backfire, causing tissue damage that can negatively impact our moods and cognitive abilities.  Along the same lines, scientists also discovered an unexpected line of communicaton between the immune system and the brain – a previously unidentified network of lymphatic vessels in the meninges – suggesting that the brain’s immune system is irrevocably linked with the body’s immune system, which suggests that drugs that repress immune responses may be able to treat a range of psychiatric and developmental conditions.
  5. Advances in Concussion Science.  Several high profile lawsuits plus a movie starring Will Smith managed to shine a new spotlight on the dangers of concussion.  The NFL has agreed to a billion-dollar settlement with players who accused the organization of covering up scientific evidence that repeated concussions put athletes at risk of permanent brain damage and death.
  6. Human Evolution.  The more human fossils paleoanthropologists discover, the weirder the story of human evolution gets.  This year scientists unveiled 1500+ fossil specimens representing a new species, Homo naledi, who seems to be a cross between australopithecines (a la Lucy) and more modern humans.
  7. To CRISPR or not to CRISPR?  Debate erupted over the ethics of employing the latest gene-editing technology, a process dubbed CRISOR-CAS9, which allows the editing of multiple genes at once.  Not since the 1980s, when a new method known as PCR was developed for greatly amplifying small amounts of DNA, has a new technology taken over research labs so quickly.  Finally, in December, an international summit was convened to debate whether use of CRISPR-CAS9 should be permitted, given its potential for making embryonic edits that would be passed down to future generations.  Ultimately it was agreed that the technology could be used so long as use was confined to the lab and “modified cells [are] not … used to establish a pregnancy.” Chilling stuff.
  8. Our Weird Universe. 2015 was the year we were reminded of just how much we still don’t understand about the basic mechanics of the universe.  Physicists were stymied by vanishing quasars, mysterious gamma rays from the center of the Milky Way, and tantalizing hints of a mysterious object orbiting a distant star that might be an alien superstructure (but probably isn’t).   Oh, and proof emerged that measuring the property of one quantum particle can instantly determine the state of another quantum particle, a phenomenon Einstein called “spooky action at a distance” and modern scientists have dubbed “quantum entanglement,” which is totally freaking me out.
  9. Reproducibility in Psychology.  Scientists once again spent the year testing whether the results of key psychological studies could be replicated.  Concerns that false positive results might be common in psychology, where studies often involve small numbers of subjects and statistically weak effects, first emerged in 2011. The scandal spurred psychologists to clean up their field – both by replicating key studies and creating new models of scholarly publication and peer review to restore confidence in published research.  The first crop of replications, in 2013, was reassuring: 10 of 13 experiments obtained the same results as the original studies. Last year, however, only 33% of 27 experiments could be replicated, a result that was repeated in 2014. The good news? The process of checking results has now become routine, and the new procedures adopted as a result of this process may drastically reduce the number of false positives in psychological research.

FOOD NEWS
  1.  Juicing. Juicing may once have been the province of fitness freaks, but now everyone seems to own their own Magic Bullet juicer.  Even more hip: “juice cleansing” – a process that supposedly rids your body of toxins. “Hip” ingredients include kale, Millet, chia seeds and seaweed.
  2. Siracha. This year's chipotle.
  3. Clean eating.  Refers to following a diet that contains only natural foods and is low in sugar, salt, and fat … basically, a diet that is low in food!
  4. Fat is good.  The Journal of the American Medical Association announced this year that reducing total fat doesn’t lower cardiovascular risk – in fat, your body needs good fat to function property. Moreover, fat isn’t necessarily what makes you fat – the consumption of sugars and salts also contributes to overall weight. Bring on the potato chips!
  5. Locally produced beer/wine/spirits.  Suddenly every restaurant seemed to be featuring beers from local micro-breweries.
  6. Environmental sustainability. Perhaps spawned by climate change-induced environmental disasters, 2015 was the year that foodies started talking about environmentally sustainable fishing and farming. An offshoot of this discussion – more attention being paid to reducing food waste and composting.
  7. Ancient grains. Thought the paleo diet lost ground in 2015, the interest in ancient grains that it sparks has lingered. Never has your supermarket’s bread aisle offered such a range of grains, from quinona to millet, from sorghum to amaranth.
  8. More and more restaurants seem to be experimenting with tech – for instance, letting guests order food and drink from their tables, play games while they’re waiting, or summon their waiter. Apparently the practice turns tables faster by eliminating downtime.
  9. With avocado prices soaring, a New York Times food author suggested supplementing your guac with crushed peas.  Possibly the most mocked bit of food advice in 2015.
  10. No more tipping? With local governments passing living wage laws and lifting minimum wages, more and more upscale restaurants are abolishing tipping in favor of higher overall wages.
  11. Buzzwords for 2015: Pistachios, Pimm’s Cup #1, iced lattes, spicier ramen noodles, shaved ice desserts, ‘nduja, flavored salts, fermented foods, savory ice creams and yougurts, bitter (bitter greens, bitter chocolate, bitter coffee), food halls, night markets, food truck rodeos, local drinking, insect protein, savory waffle sandwiches, matcha.

WORDS OF THE YEAR. As in previous years, I’ll preface this with an acknowledgment that almost none of these words were actually invented in 2015. It might be more accurate to say that these are words that reached “critical mass” – became generally used and recognized – over the course of the year.  If it seems like this list grows in length every year, that’s because it does: it’s amazing how the advent of digital communications has hastened the pace at which new words are able to adopted into the common lexicon.
  1. Adorkable. Cute in a dorky way
  2. Affluenza. Suffering from affluence
  3. Awesomesauce. Synonym for “awesome”
  4. Bestie. Short for “best friend”
  5. Butt-dial. That awkward moment when your phone dials a number by mistake because you bent over the wrong way
  6. Crowdfunding. The process of reaching out to non-traditional sources to fund one’s cause or objective.
  7. Declutter. The process of disposing of unnecessary possessions in order to simplify one’s existence and/or protest against the evils of consumarism
  8. Deconfliction. A new bit of military jargon that apparently refers to the need to avoid airspace conflicts over high priority targets
  9. Emojis.  Cartoonish pictograms, used in text-based exchanges to indicate feelings/reactions/emotions
  10. Facepalm. The gesture of placing the palm of one’s hand over one’s face in order to express embarrassment, frustration, or disbelief
  11. Feels. Short for “I’m sorry; I feel for you”
  12. Hangry. When you’re angry/grumpy as the result of being hungry
  13. Hoverboard. Popularized by the classic movie Back to the Future, the term came back into usage this year when a toy company released a so-called hoverboard – more accurately described as a mini-Segways
  14. Humblebragging. A bragging statement about an accomplishment, couched in terms meant to imply humility.
  15. Manic pixie dream girl. A female character depicted as vivacious and appealingly quirky
  16. Mansplaining. To explain something to someone in a condescending or patronizing manner.
  17. Mic drop. A performance or moment so impressive, it can’t be topped
  18. Mx. A gender-neutral prefix, to be employed when none of the others quite apply
  19. Pwnd. In gaming, the word means to be utterly defeated by an opponent
  20. Radicalize. The process whereby otherwise upstanding citizens are brainwashed into becoming terrorists
  21. Rage-quit. Quitting an activity because it has become too frustrating
  22. Spear phishing. The fraudulent practice of sending emails ostensibly from a known or trusted sender in order to induce them to reveal confidential information
  23. Unicorns. Startups that end up valued at a billion dollars or more – so named because of their rarity

QUOTE OF THE YEAR. I couldn’t choose between these two, so am declaring a tie.
  1. “Where is the humanity in the world?” – Tima Kurdi, aunt of the 3yr old boy whose body was washed up on a Turkish beach after the boat he was travelling in capsized.
  2. “Our thoughts and prayers are not enough.”  - Barack Obama, in the aftermath of the mass killing of nine students at Umpqua Community College, th e18th college shooting of 2015.