Smoking the competition. The fire-breathing dragon Smaug incinerated its box-office competition this weekend as The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug brought in $73 million. Frozen, in its second week, came in a distant second with $22 million. Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas had a respectable $16 million opening. Every other movie in the Top 10 this week was a previous release. Look for new releases to crowd theaters in the next two weeks as critically acclaimed movies such as Saving Mr. Banks and the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis get released more widely, and movies that have been hanging on for a while such as Ender’s Game and Captain Phillips go away.
NPR gets grants. NPR has secured $17 million in grants to expand its news coverage and its digital platforms. Among the grant providers are the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. It’s not like NPR needs the money. Its budget is already $183 million per year, and it just moved into a new multimillion-dollar facility near Capitol Hill in Washington. Though much of the grant money will go to develop digital platforms for NPR, Laura Walker, CEO of New York Public Radio, told The New York Times radio listening is “at an all-time high.” New technologies rarely kill old technologies; they just change how they are used.
Tea Time. On this day 240 years ago, a group calling itself the Sons of Liberty dumped 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor. The Boston Tea Party was a protest against a tea tax imposed on Americans by the British government. In 2007, Ron Paul, then running for president, used the Boston Tea Party anniversary to raise more than $6 million in one day, mostly through internet donations. His success helped launch both the Tea Party movement and internet “money bombs” that have transformed American politics.
Sign-language fiasco. It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry at the story of the bogus sign-language interpreter. If you haven’t followed the story, here’s a summary: A man with an unstable mental condition and criminal history somehow was hired to interpret the Nelson Mandela memorial service and stood next to, among others, President Barack Obama and made ridiculous hand gestures that had nothing to do with the speeches he was supposed to be signing. Members of the deaf community, who knew instantly that he was a fake, first raised the alarm. The Associated Press also reported that the man, Thomsanqa Jantjie, was involved in a gruesome murder, but never stood trial because the court ruled he was not mentally competent. Instead, he was institutionalized for a year. An investigation is ongoing to determine how the man was hired and how he was able to stand for hours within striking distance of some of the world’s most powerful leaders.