Facts over frenzy

The massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., is so atrocious and painful that it invokes an hysterical urge to “do something.”

“Anything!” our tormented empathy cries out.

But frantic feelings and unbridled emotions do not good policy make. The cold light of analysis must supersede the hot tears of desperation if whatever is to be done actually produces some good effect.

There are hard realities and stubborn facts about school massacres. Mass school shootings as we know them today are almost entirely local events, as unpredictable as lightning strikes, and utter anomalies when viewed against the vast K-12 education universe in America.

Concerns over “safe schools” are misguided. In Florida, Miami Southridge High School has far more violence and expulsions than Stoneman Douglas, and is located in a neighborhood with a violent crime rate 15 times higher than Parkland’s.

Top-down, traditional indicators are totally ineffective in assigning risk of mass school shootings. Here’s why.

In this century, worldwide there have been at least 56 school massacres (defined as a mass shooting with students as the targets resulting in at least two fatalities); 18 of those occurred in the U.S.

Of those 18, eight involved massacres committed on K-12 campuses, which resulted in the deaths of 69 American children and adults. Those eight incidents and 69 murders are spread out over 17 years, across 130,000 different school facilities, attended by roughly 50 million students every single year.

You don’t have to be a statistical analyst to begin to understand the degree of difficulty in trying to accurately anticipate or prepare for when and where the next incident might occur.

Add in the 45 people injured in the eight 21st century school massacres, and the resulting 114 casualties represent 0.0000021 (barely 2 ten-thousandths of 1 percent) of all U.S. K-12 students and teachers.

In the same time period, there have been more than 285,000 murders in the U.S., of which nearly 30,000 victims were age 18 or younger. For those seeking to stop the slaughter of children, the cause is a worthy one: 100 times as many kids as died at Parkland will be massacred this year in the U.S.

The chilling actuality is that the day before the Parkland attack, about 47 people were murdered across the country. And 47 more the day after. And every day since.

School massacres are still singularly heinous crimes, however, and we must do everything we can to prevent them. That begins with analyzing and better understanding their singularity.

In all but one of the U.S. K-12 school massacres since 2000, the shooter was a student or former student at the targeted school. This is critical because it drastically localizes prevention efforts.

Trying to guard against transient adult strangers attacking randomly selected schools would forever be an impossible impracticality. Protecting against attackers that are already known to many in the school—staff, teachers, other students—is much more achievable.

In hindsight, most mass school shooters left red flags galore, and had someone somehow been able to connect the dots, their massacres might have been averted.

Knowing who that person might be, and keeping him away from both guns and schools, is the best approach to stopping school massacres. To acquire that knowledge, we must overcome a couple of traditional obstacles.

One involves rethinking juvenile law’s foundational assumptions. We must start distinguishing between merely delinquent and truly violent juveniles, and share that information in real time with school staff. Likewise, anytime a student is expelled for physical violence or anything involving a weapon or other disturbed behaviors, that should trigger placement on a school violence watch list.

Had such lists previously been implemented, all of this century’s school massacre shooters except one would’ve been on them. If watch lists were put in place now, the likelihood of spotting warning signals and connecting dots for potentially dangerous students would increase exponentially.

Prohibit students or former students on the watch list from bringing backpacks or bags to school. Search them and their lockers and cars more often. Regularly inspect and surveil their Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook activity.

The safety of students should constitute a clear and compelling state interest in keeping a closer eye on observed behavioral dangers from a school’s own records—which is where the mass school shooters are coming from.

Lawmakers can bloviate and legislate for the 50 million American students who will never become mass shooters, because it’s “something” national politicians can do.

Meantime, one of those 50 million kids is contemplating shooting up one of the nation’s 130,000 schools. Lookouts in Washington, D.C., will never see him coming.

But at his school, he’s already been noticed as acting disturbed. He may have been expelled. He’s had some juvenile scrapes with the law, possibly involving animal cruelty. Classmates have noticed weird, alarming posts from him online.

The Florida sheriff pleaded, “if you see something, say something,” and he’s right.

Our juvenile courts and school disciplinary systems already see plenty of potential red flags. We must change policies and processes so administrators and teachers and safety officers can see and connect them.


Correct Observation

Half the states in the Union have abandoned Washington’s Birthday on Monday for some variation of pin-the-apostrophe-on-the-word-President holiday.

We can all be proud that Arkansas is not among them.

To begin with, there is no such thing as a national Presidents (or President’s or Presidents’) Day. When Congress changed the law in 1968 to move the date of observation to the third Monday in February, it did not change the name. If you’re the doubting type, visit the federal Office of Personnel Management website (opm.gov). The official federal holiday is still, as it’s been since 1879, Washington’s Birthday.

As well it should be. If any American is worthy of a national holiday, the Father of our Country is singularly deserving.

That distinction doesn’t demean other Americans or their noteworthy achievements. It merely acknowledges the universal truth: George Washington was indeed the “indispensable man” of the founding era as heralded by historian James Flexner in his Pulitzer Prize-winning biography.

Like the eponymous monument, he towered over a host of pivotal, luminary statesmen. What’s more, his political contemporaries knew and accepted as much. The disagreements between Federalists and Anti-Federalists were legion, yet they unanimously agreed on Washington’s merit and credentials to be the nation’s first chief executive.

Since the nation’s inception, it was always common knowledge from kindergarten classes to the Oval Office that without Washington there would have been “no independence, no Union, no Constitution, and no Republic.”

Until recently.

Washington’s birthday was a grass-roots national celebration for 100 years before Congress got around to codifying it by statute, but over the past few decades that has waned dramatically.

Despite our legislature’s fidelity to the holiday’s namesake, far too many businesses within our state’s borders join innumerable others around the country in shamelessly behaving as if Monday is “National Shill Day.”

What untold blessings the citizenry might obtain were the same energy directed toward Presidents Day sales applied to the study and emulation of our first president! How much more industry, service, sacrifice and achievement the nation might enjoy if more of us aspired to imitate Washington’s example of will, discipline, effort and perseverance. Or if we internalized as counsel Washington’s own succinct explanation of his successes shortly before his death: He had always striven to walk a “straight line.”

He had endeavored, he wrote, “as far as human frailties, and perhaps strong passions, would enable him, to discharge the relative duties to his Maker and fellow-men, without seeking any indirect or left handed attempts to acquire popularity.”

Words of wisdom, indeed, to a culture that constantly confuses popularity and leadership. And there are countless more wise words where those came from.

Nineteenth-century author J.F. Schroeder called Washington the World’s Apostle of Liberty, due to the general’s prolific correspondence and his heroism in the Revolutionary War of principles “that involved the interests of all mankind.”

Washington wrote an estimated 20,000 letters and his collected writings (to date) fill more than 60 volumes.

What if all American adolescents today were required to copy down the same 110 Rules of Civility that Washington did, and commit to conforming to them in attitude and action? Instead, young Americans can complete 17 consecutive years of education and yet command barely a cursory knowledge of the only American truly without peer.

This demands remedying.

Restore Washington’s place to “first in the hearts of his countrymen,” and we will simultaneously restore his myriad virtues as extolled examples at a time when exemplary role models are desperately needed.

Let that restoration begin by banning the abomination known as Presidents Day. As one historian noted, to bundle a Buchanan and Washington under the same holiday is to “conflate copper with gold.”

The original purpose for national holidays was to focus Americans’ attention in unity on concepts greater than themselves, not to merely take time off from work for recreation. As conceived by the founders, Thanksgiving and Independence Day celebrated national principles around which all citizens should rightly rally. This notion has extended to subsequent holidays as well, such as Memorial Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Requiring all states to observe Washington’s Birthday may not revoke Monday’s pervading crass commercialism, but it will at least result in renaming it all—and repetitive name recognition is a positive first step in rebranding.

Next, let’s capitalize on the little flash of parade fever emanating from the vicinity of Pennsylvania Avenue by establishing an annual Washington’s Birthday parade in the nation’s capital.

This initiative could also serve to re-institute the practice in states and localities, where it once was ubiquitous every February.

The capital city that bears his name and is host to Congress has sunk to levels of such low esteem that it may have transplanted his personage in the minds of many, perhaps most, Americans.

We the people need to return to a collective state of mind in which, when the word “Washington” is heard, it once again instills by common consent the standard for illustrious character of the American spirit.

It’s a long journey, so start with a small step—correct anyone who refers to Monday as Presidents Day.

Inventors Day

Since 1983, Feb. 11 has been observed as National Inventors Day.

It’s a proper commemoration. Inventions change the world, for better and worse. And in the past 50 years, there have been a number of doozies, especially regarding communications technology.

Those older than 40 can well remember life without smartphones (invented 1992), websites (invented 1991) and email (invented 1972). Those under 25 cannot fathom such a life. That’s a sea-change perspective in a short span of time, barely a generation.

You may be reading this on a printed sheet, or on an illuminated LED screen (invented 1977).

The date set aside for recognition is Thomas Edison’s birthday, and with 1,093 U.S. patents to his credit, the Wizard of Menlo Park’s given name is essentially synonymous with “inventor.”

His biography is beyond inspiring. However, if the only anecdotal tidbit you recall is a widely circulated Facebook (invented 2004) post about Edison’s mother, you swallowed a fiction (albeit an uplifting one). The story describes a young Thomas bringing a note home from school that his teacher said to give to his mother. “What does it say?” the child asks.

Mrs. Edison opens the letter, and with teary eyes, reads it aloud to him: “Your son is a genius. This school is too small for him and doesn’t have good enough teachers to train him. Please teach him yourself.”

Many years later, the post continues, Edison found the old note from his teacher and opened it to read: “Your son is mentally deficient. We cannot let him attend our school anymore. He is expelled.”

While it’s a heart-tugger of a tale, it’s a prime example of something sounding too good to be true. The kernel of truth about Edison’s education is that he was home-schooled by his mother. But there was no letter and no expulsion. She was outraged that a schoolmaster had insulted her son—in the poorest student prophecy ever, the teacher called Edison “addled”—and angrily pulled him out of school.

That the light bulb has become a universal icon of ideation is indicative of the magnitude of Edison’s life-altering inventions.

But his first patent was a commercial failure. The reason? He tried to bring efficiency to politics by devising an electric vote-counting machine for the Massachusetts legislature. Unfortunately, lawmakers liked to manually cast and count votes because the ensuing delays allowed time for influencing colleagues.

Edison learned two critical lessons that apply to this day for innovative entrepreneurs: (1) some status quos intentionally eschew progress, and (2) “never waste time inventing things that people would not want to buy.”

His incandescent bulb exploited both points, literally bringing light to the lives of people everywhere, for which everyone was willing to pay. The now ubiquitous commodity commands astronomical utility and popularity. Americans buy some 2.5 billion light bulbs annually.

Many modern inventions have followed stratospheric paths to adoption, but none with a steeper trajectory than text messaging (invented 1992).

The statistics defy comprehension, evidenced in current events by the 50,000 texts reportedly exchanged between an FBI agent and lawyer. It turns out they’re not that far from normal—one study showed the average consumer sends 72 texts per day. Based on approximately 10 months, the FBI pair would have averaged 83 daily texts.

Overall in the U.S., we send and receive 3 trillion texts every year, 8 billion a day. Text usage rates are inversely related to age, however. College-age Americans send eight times as many texts as my generation does. Unfortunately, they also tend to send more texts while driving.

And therein lies one of the “worse” aspects of a major invention.

It takes on average five seconds to read a text. In a vehicle traveling 60 mph, or 88 feet per second, a driver who averts his or her eyes for only three seconds travels the length of a football field. On a faster four-lane highway, a five-second text read can result in a distraction travel distance of 550 feet—a full tenth of a mile. Typing out a text with one hand on the wheel can take even more time, especially since texts can be much longer now than in previous years. The old 160-character SMS limits have been negated by app-driven texting, such as iMessage on Apple phones.

Distracted-driving statistics involving texting are tragic in cost of life and human suffering, especially among young drivers. While drunk driving and talking on the phone create increased risk of auto accidents, by four and five times respectively, texting and driving creates a 24-times risk. The risk goes up even higher for teen drivers as opposed to adults.

Arkansas, like 43 other states, bans texting while driving. Cognitively, 94 percent of teen drivers know it’s dangerous and risky. Nearly four in 10 admit to doing it anyway. That results in 11 teenagers a day dying from texting-related vehicle crashes. And countless others hurt or injured. Inventors are trying to perfect a cell-phone jamming device for cars; consumers would more readily embrace technology that disables only texting, but not calling.

That’s a hope to remember this Feb. 11.

Job creation index

Feelings and facts may start with the same letter, but they are often as far apart as alpha and omega. A case in point is the rather sobering findings from a recent statistical study of Arkansas’ Quick Action Closing Fund (QACF).

The QACF is a discretionary fund authorized by the Legislature available to the governor to use as a deal sweetener in negotiations with large employers seeking to locate or expand in Arkansas.

It was intended to be an economic development tool, based on the assumption that investing state money to attract employers would deliver a favorable return on that investment. The feel-good theory was that if, for example, a major automaker plant was deciding between Arkansas and some other state, the ability to flash a financial carrot might make the competitive difference in closing the deal. The reality is that no such scenario has successfully played out with a huge manufacturer, which might be OK if, overall, the program still did manage to deliver widespread economic benefit.

But has it done so?

That justifying question was the very subject of a Mercatus Center project paper published by Jacob Bundrick and Thomas Snyder, “Do Business Subsidies Lead to Increased Economic Activity?”

The first order of analysis for the study was where QACF money went. From inception in 2007 to the end of calendar year 2015, some $102 million was disbursed to companies in 24 of Arkansas’ 75 counties.

Five of those counties (Pulaski, Faulkner, Washington, Craighead, and Sebastian) received three-quarters of the fund’s total distributions.

“Given that not all of Arkansas’ counties have had companies within their borders receive QACF subsidies,” the authors wrote, “it is natural to ask whether differences exist between the counties where subsidized projects have taken place and the counties where they have not.”

The study analyzed the two sets of counties using various measures, means and averages in median household income, unemployment rate, private employment and establishment growth, and more.

Certain correlations were unsurprising. Most of the funds went to wealthier and more populous areas, which is where most larger companies and employers are located. Counties with QACF projects showed more population and household income growth than counties without projects, but that’s an intrinsic quality for the state’s wealthier counties anyway.

In order to try and determine the fund’s effectiveness as a program, the researchers looked specifically at private employment per 1,000 population and private establishments per 1,000 population with regard to QACF subsidies provided to businesses within a given county in $100,000 increments or units.

Controlling for factors such as labor cost, work-force education level, rural population density, county wealth, and age and racial makeup of populations, the study found there to be no statistical difference over a four-year period in either the employment or establishment model in counties receiving QACF subsidies.

Moreover, the results also quashed a familiar caveat: QACF subsidies also produced no meaningful job growth in counties bordering those that received funding, nullifying the idea of oft-touted “spillover” employment benefits. The test statistic formulations actually indicated a slightly negative effect on bordering counties for establishment growth, but not enough to be economically significant.

For a program devised specifically to foster job creation, it’s more than a little distressing that the research could link no county-level job growth whatsoever to its activities across a four-year span involving tens of millions of dollars in grant giveaways.

Like many other states, Arkansas has legislated incentive programs at a faster rate than it has created empirical analysis and accountability measures to evaluate them. What study literature exists in other states has shown a murky connection at best between incentives of all sorts.

The studied conclusions on enterprise zones, tax-increment financing, property-tax incentives and other forms have consistently included phrasing such as “no noticeable impact,” “no evidence of positive effects,” “negative relationships with employment” and “not effective at stimulating improvements.”

It does not disparage the original good intentions of incentive programs like the QACF to wonder aloud after a decade’s time if there’s not a better way to incite job creation in Arkansas.

Perhaps the first step would be to bring a more rigid structure to front-end analysis with some sort of Job Creation Index. It could statistically account for the fact that not all jobs created are equal, even if the wage is.

We need some in-depth analysis to quantify and compare the value of homegrown companies’ jobs with their out-of-state counterparts. An Arkansas-headquartered firm’s growth produces compounded revenues that reverberate across both county and state economies. Profit dollars stay in-state and recirculate at an accelerated rate. Their roots reduce likelihood of total relocation.

At least those are the general assumptions.

A sophisticated Job Creation Index, using data analysis and statistical modeling, could bring solid information to light about the effects entrepreneurial investment, factory expansions, infrastructure inputs and other factors have on county level employment growth, retention and comparative wage scales.

We have universities and skilled economists at our disposal. Funding further study to quantitatively understand the real value of Arkansas-first investment in business and industry would be money well-spent.

When or lose

Fresh from the “hmm … that never occurred to me” front is a powerful opening introduction in a new thought-provoking book about time and timing.

Capt. William Thomas Turner is one of those figures whose role associated with a prominent historical event completely overshadows his name. In his new book When, author Daniel Pink posits the idea that Captain Turner’s fateful decisions back in 1915 resulted in catastrophe possibly because of the timing surrounding them.

Turner was at the helm of the Lusitania on May 7 as it approached the Irish coast in a dense fog at a cautious 15 knots. He had received news that German U-boats were in the area, and so when the fog lifted around 1 p.m. he gave orders to increase speed to 18 knots.

That wasn’t “full speed ahead,” which would have been 21 knots—fast enough to outrun a sub. Inexplicably, about 45 minutes later he also ordered a time-consuming bearing check that required the ship to travel in a straight line rather than a zig-zag maneuver.

Plowing ahead slow and unswerving, the Lusitania was essentially a sitting duck. At just after 2 o’clock, a German torpedo tore into the ocean liner’s starboard hull. The rest is nautical tragedy.

Turner’s decisions spawned countless conspiracy theories.

Pink’s provocative notion: Maybe all the myth and lore surrounding the Lusitania is just that. “Maybe,” he argues, “Captain Turner just made some bad decisions. And maybe those decisions were bad because he made them in the afternoon.”

To produce the book, Pink and his team pored over more than 700 studies ranging from economics and anesthesiology to chronobiology and social psychology to get a tighter grasp on the “hidden science of timing.”

Data collection in the digital age is powerful; consumer behavior is analyzable in ways never before imagined, since most of us live out large chunks of our lives using smartphones and the Internet.

And across this vast bulkhead of scientific research, delving deep into the patterns and cycles that pervade so many aspects of biological life and psychological nature, Pink unearthed some remarkable insights.

To begin with, the natural oscillation of everyone’s day involves a predictable peak-trough-rebound pattern, as entrenched biologically as the tides.

Whether the studies involved Twitter tweets and the tone of their content, earnings calls from public companies and the negativity they produced, or mock jurors looking over the same sets of trial facts with disparate verdicts, the up-down-up curve of a three-stage day held true in shaping how we think, feel and act.

The Bermuda triangle of our day, Pink points out, is the trough—that dip in our daily cycle that tends to emerge about seven hours after waking.

That’s when Captain Turner erred lethally. It’s also when hospital statistics go haywire.

Whether it’s fatal complications with anesthesia, or over-prescription of antibiotics, or hospital employees not washing their hands diligently, afternoons produce far more medical mistakes and calamities than mornings.

Pink found that there is an antidote to troughs and their declines in vigilance, however, and it’s hardly anything new under the sun. Restorative breaks—even naps—can return mental capacity and decision-making back to the level of peaks and recoveries.

Science tells us breaks aren’t signs of sloth, he says, but signs of strength.

Some of the scientific research is staggering in its scale. In a 2015 study of handwashing at some three dozen U.S. medical centers, researchers scoured over data from radio frequency ID chips on sanitizer dispensers that communicated with chips on employee badges.

The volume was massive: Studying the behavior of more than 4,000 caregivers (most of which were nurses) resulted in almost 14 million opportunities for hand hygiene.

Afternoons reduced the likelihood of handwashing by as much as 38 percent—a serious problem given the increased risk of infections, and their cost in dollars and lives.

Obviously, hospitals can’t shut down in the afternoons. But understanding more of the science around timing allows for better management of issues related to the neglect fostered by troughs.

Some medical centers have instituted “vigilance breaks” in the afternoons to let surgical teams refocus on tasks at hand in formal, methodical ways. Similar to a “timeout” in sports, they stop, reset collectively, and restart.

Vigilance breaks have proven successful, with improved outcomes and reduced mistakes.

In education, studies have consistently shown higher test scores in the mornings, even controlled for all manner of student differences.

But the learning solution isn’t merely moving test times. Students fall into the same broad chronotypes as adults—larks, owls and what Pink calls third birds—but at different times depending on their age.

Adolescents, for example, tend to be notorious night owls, whose peak times are later in the day or early evening. Problem-solving studies involving logic and analytics clearly indicate that those spike during a person’s peak.

Yet high schools constantly force students to apply that kind of thinking during their troughs.

With a growing body of science around timing, it isn’t a matter of whether conventional thinking about daily routines and their social inertia will be seriously challenged—it’s a matter of when.

State of small business

Small business is a critical component of local economies, especially in rural communities. In small states, with lower per capita income, small business matters even more. Local civic support is driven by owners and entrepreneurs of small enterprises, who not only donate a larger percentage of their income to charity—but also keep it very local.

For every dollar a small business gives to philanthropy, 90 cents goes to hometown causes.

According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), there are nearly 30 million small businesses—one for every 10 Americans—employing 58 million workers, which is nearly half of the U.S. work force.

Looking at national maps, the one that shows population density per county looks like a film negative to the one that shows small business employment by county. As population density goes down, the percentage of people working in small businesses goes up.

Arkansas is no exception to that rule. We’re not only a natural for small business, but we also outperform the national averages in some choice statistics, like percentage of veteran-owned companies.

The SBA reports nearly a quarter-million small businesses in Arkansas, which account for nearly 500,000 jobs.

Economic indicators are pointing upward for businesses of all sizes. Since the 2016 election, the Wall Street Journal Dow Industrial average has set more than 90 record highs. Unemployment is low, interest rates are low, optimism is high. In fact, when the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) released its index of small-business optimism this week for December, the headline was “All Time Record in 2017.”

That’s pretty impressive news for a quarterly survey that’s been taking the temperature of small-business attitudes for 45 years. Consumer confidence has been in lockstep with the NFIB’s reporting, riding 17-year highs of late and currently at levels more than six times higher than in 2009.

Importantly, the SBA chart comparing business startups to exits has flipped since 2009. Data from 2016 show a strong, positive gap: more than 230,000 startups against 200,000 exits, with a net employment retention of more than 100,000 jobs. In 2009, exits outpaced startups by 10 percent, with a net job loss of 150,000 employees.

The tax-reform bill also portends well for small businesses, with the blessing of the NFIB (which panned the earlier version) and other business organizations and publications. It offers particular benefits for pass-through entities, which many small businesses are, where business income flows through directly to be reported on an individual’s personal tax return.

Opportunities appear to abound for small-business states in general, and in particular for Arkansas in one critical area.

The SBA’s mission since its creation in 1953 is to “aid, counsel, assist and protect the interests of small business concerns, to preserve free competitive enterprise and to maintain and strengthen the overall economy of our nation.”

With higher poverty and lower income levels among the states, a disproportionate tax burden, and a landscape dominated with rural and sparsely populated areas, Arkansas ought to be the poster child for an organization devoted to helping people “start, build and grow” small businesses. Yet by the SBA’s own reporting admissions, Arkansas lags.

From its state entrepreneurial data, we ranked 43rd in SBA loans per 100,000 people in 2015. That’s a linear disparity with our population rank (25th), and even more skewed considering our positive small-business environment considerations.

There is a slight silver lining: We were second in the nation in growth of loans per 100,000 people from 2012-2015. And we were ranked seventh in the size of average SBA loan.

But amid all the optimism and consumer confidence of 2017, Arkansas saw a slight dip in SBA activity. Arkansas businesses received 337 loans in the SBA’s popular 7(a) program in fiscal 2017 totalling $191 million. Not only is that a drop in the national bucket of 62,470 loans and $25 billion, but it’s a dramatically smaller one than our representation in both number of small businesses and their employee rolls.

Our state’s share of SBA loans, calculated proportionately just on numbers, should be at least 60 percent higher. Factored for population, more than that.

In addition, the SBA loans approved in 2017 are down slightly from 2016 (363 loans and $221 million), and across both years a large portion of loans are made in more populous areas of the state, rather than lower-density areas with higher small-business employment rates.

This spells opportunity within our state borders for small businesses serving small communities.

Self-employed entrepreneurs are the engines to job creation here and across the country. Technology continues to spur new thinking, new ideas and new ways of doing almost everything, and the barriers to small business functionality are constantly falling away.

Maybe you’ve heard ads for outsourcing live receptionists to “delight customers” (callruby.com) or using your cell phones to “look like a national company” (grasshopper.com)?

The competitive tools for small business are more powerful—and more numerous and affordable—than ever. Coupled with real tax reform with a decidedly pro-small-business tilt, and an underserved SBA population, that makes Arkansas entrepreneurs well-positioned for 2018.

Newsmas: A compendium

Monday’s mammoth holiday is unique because of its celebratory schizophrenia. It is simultaneously a hallowed religious observance honoring the birth of Jesus Christ, and a fervent secular festival invoking the giving spirit of Santa Claus.

Nationwide, an estimated 293 million Americans are expected to keep Christmas in one way or another. That’s a degree of domestic unity no other cause or celebration even comes close to matching.

Given its truly titanic proportions, and its equally vast dimensions (stretching from hearth and home to mall and Main Street to choir and congregation), no single day dominates or colors the news cycle like the 25th of December.

Call it Newsmas—and enjoy this compendium gleaned from the more than 10 million results of simply searching “Christmas” in Google News.

For those dreaming of “white” this year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s online interactive map is helpful, if not hopeful. Just click on the dots marking towns all over the U.S. to see the historical chance of a white Christmas.

Only three dots in the Natural State have any shade of blue, which signifies higher probability: Eureka Springs (13 percent) and Deer and Gravette (both at 14 percent). The chance at Adams Field in Little Rock is a puny 1 percent, and everywhere else is either in single digits or zero.

Shift your dreams to a frosty Christmas, however, and the odds go way up. AccuWeather forecasts “dramatically colder air” to plunge deep into the central U.S. Temperatures across Arkansas are expected to be well below normal on Sunday and Monday.

New York Times book review names noteworthy holiday crime offerings, including one called Murder on the Toy Town Express, whose plot involves pediophobia (fear of dolls). A couple of highlighted anthologies: Sleep No More and The Usual Santas. The lore of yuletide mystery fiction lives on!

Lots of folks will be going home (or somewhere) for Christmas, and the American Automobile Association predicts the nation’s roadways will be clogged with 97.3 million travelers over the weekend. Please drive safe: do buckle, don’t text.

Out of Byram, Miss., comes the tale of a tyke who called 911 to save Christmas from that thieving Grinch. After watching YouTube videos about the Seuss character and his plan, 5-year-old TyLon Pittman got worried last Saturday and decided to give the police a head’s up. Officers dutifully responded, and the green-skinned crook was apprehended Monday night. Police took TyLon to a holding room, where the Grinch promised not to steal any presents. When he grows up, TyLon says he wants to be a policeman.

Satire flourishes this season, with bloggers at the Cato Institute posting their Santa wish list, in hopes that St. Nick might be able to step in where presidents have failed to trod and improve foreign relations.

USA Today published “A Very Twitter Christmas,” by humorist Hart Seely, which parodied Dickens’ tale using @Trumpmas_Carol. A few of the rib-tickling tweets:

“Uncle Roy warns of 3 visits tonight by Christmas spirits w/axes to grind. Haters and leakers. Says expect them to be wearing wires. HIT JOB!”…

“Wacky, unhinged Ghost of Christmas-future makes grand entrance, waves arms, says NOTHING! Just like Comey! Go back to CNN, Casper!”…

“On 2nd thought, PIVOT: Cratchits to get health care, tax cuts, oil pipeline, border wall & FREE TURKEY! Mexico to pay. Feliz Navidad!

An updated Pew research project reports a small slide among Americans who observe Christmas as a Christian holy day. In 2013, 58 percent of survey respondents said they planned to celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, compared to 55 percent in 2017.

A much starker division appears among generations, with only 42 percent of millennials celebrating the religious aspect of Christmas. More than half (51 percent) of Americans still plan to attend church on Christmas, down slightly from 54 percent four years ago. That will translate into 166 million souls swelling among the nation’s more than 300,000 Christian churches—only Easter fills more pews.

In another survey, from the Monmouth University Polling Institute, respondents were asked to name their favorite animated holiday TV special. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer nudged out A Charlie Brown Christmas, and given that everything is hyper-political in these times, researchers examined the results by partisan leanings.

“It’s a Christmas miracle!” director Patrick Murray said. Across the spectrum, Rudolph held the top spot with Charlie Brown second.

Up in Ellsworth, Maine (nearby Bangor has a NOAA probability of 61 percent for Christmas snow), waitress and single mom Trisha Murphy wasn’t exactly sure what an older customer meant when he said he would be Santa this year. But when he paid his bill, Murphy was surprised to receive a $500 tip. Working two jobs and with her car recently towed, she posted on Facebook that he “literally saved Christmas” for her four children.

“Good people do still exist,” she wrote, “Yesterday was the day I met Santa!”

Her post recalls the fabled words of Francis Church’s famous 1897 Santa Claus editorial: “He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.”