TIME person of the year

I Never Guess TIME’s Person of the Year Either

TIME Person of the Year 2014 Magazine Cover: The Ebola Fighters 141222

Belinda Luscombe, an editor-at-large of TIME, writes about the science, economy and insanity of relationships—those conducted at home, work or in cyberspace. She's also the editor of the Time for Family newsletter and was formerly the editor of the magazine's Culture section. Luscombe has worked at TIME since 1995, after moving to New York City from Sydney.

Another year, another opportunity to choose wrong

So you just found out who the Person of the Year is? Congratulations. So did I. I’ve worked at TIME for almost two decades and I’ve never once known the identity of the Person of the Year (or POY, to us semi-insiders) before the printers in Oklahoma do.

Oh, except last year, when Pastor Rick Warren told me. I was interviewing him for the 10 Questions page for TIME’s end of year issue and I asked him if he thought the Pope would be a good person of the year. He swung into an answer so smooth and detailed, even for a preacher from California, that I realized he’d said it before. And there he was a few days later, quoted in our cover.

I’m not entirely sure why I never know who the POY is. It’s not that I’m not good with secrets. (O.K., maybe it is a little bit that I’m not good with secrets.) But the whole operation is carried out with such a level of confidentiality that actually very few people at TIME know much ahead of publication. There’s cloak-and-dagger air to it all: a lot of password protected files, a cluster of secret meetings and sometimes a certain amount of brown paper over office door windows. I could go into more detail, but as mentioned before, I’m good with secrets.

All right, just a little bit: Sometimes you can hazard a guess by figuring out the area of expertise of a colleague who has suddenly gone very quiet. Or if somebody who pitched a good idea at the first POY meeting starts to look very haggard around December, that can be a clue. But I still rarely figure it out.

Every year, way in advance, the call goes out to the staff for suggested candidates for the POY, and every year I try to come up with someone. I’m currently batting 0.00 on getting any of my ideas through. If you don’t want to be POY, give me a call. Ten years ago, I had the job of trying to persuade Mel Gibson, whose The Passion of the Christ had been a huge hit, to pose with Michael Moore, whose Fahrenheit 911 had also been big. If both of them had agreed they had a shot at being POY.

Moore took almost no persuading. Gibson’s publicist agreed to let me speak to the movie star as well. Alas, a few minutes into the phone call it became clear I might as well have been pitching him a sequel to The Passion, only a comedy, about Muhammad. Neither man (nor the Prophet) was POY that year. It was George W. Bush.

I suggested Hillary Clinton in probably her least influential year. In 2001, when it was NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani, I was in Osama Bin Laden’s camp, so to speak. In 2008, when Barack Obama was elected president, I believe I suggested that it should be anybody but Barack Obama. This year, I suggested the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram. Since they’ve been in captivity for several months in a remote part of Nigeria, it was a bit of a longshot.

All the finalists for POY have code names, and for this year, they were all flowers: There was Daffodil candidate, the Tulip candidate and so on. When I saw that one of the candidates was named Mum, I thought I’d have to make a quick phone call home to check my mother (she’s British, so she spells it like that) hadn’t done anything special.

Of course she had, and I had to hear about that for a long time. I think she’s walking the dog in a new part of the park or had an important exchange with her Vietnamese pharmacist. I kept trying to explain that I needed to see some evidence of influence, which is what we look for in a POY. Eventually she came up with that she had managed to get dad to see a foreign film. If she keeps up that pace, I’ll probably suggest her next year.

I’ve started to enjoy the process of not knowing who the POY is; it has become an end of year ritual, like buying my last minute Christmas gifts from the all-night pharmacy. And I worry that knowing in advance might spoil the fun, like when I actually buy the presents in advance and the kids poke holes in the too-cheap wrapping paper. So Happy POY day everyone. And congratulations [blank space here]!

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.


How the American Family Has Changed Dramatically

The difference between the haves and the have-nots have never been this steep

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Kentucky Family
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Modern marriage presents something of a conundrum for sociologists. The benefits of marriage have been widely studied; they include better health, better finances and a leg up for children raised in a stable environment. Some studies have even suggested that the legally wed have more sex. Marriage is an attractive enough proposition that people have marched and protested to allow a new subset of people to have access to it. Yet marriage rates are in decline.

In fact, a new book by a well-respected sociologist argues that the American family unit is facing challenges it has never encountered before.

Specifically, the marital decline has occurred among the working class. According to one study, more than 60% of white males aged 20 to 49 with jobs in the service sector, like waiters and janitors, were married in 1960. By 2010 that figure was less than 30%. Among African American men in the same situation the figure is less than 20%.

The non-married are not swinging George Clooney style bachelors who play the field until they find the perfect woman with whom to set up a home. These are usually fathers, men who have children and responsibilities and are often living with the mother of at least some of those children, or have lived with her in the past. They have made a family, but they haven’t founded that family on a marriage.

Meanwhile, for the wealthy, a successful and lasting marriage has become more and more likely. Professional men marry professional women, they pool their considerable resources and spend at least some of them on meticulously raising offspring, who get the best education, enrichment activities and artisanal bread for their lunchtime sandwich. They can afford to outsource or avoid those tasks that cause tension in less comfortable marriages: childcare, food provision, cleaning, unpaid bills, unemployment.

This has led some such cultural critics as Charles Murray to speculate that permissive social norms championed largely by the rich have worsened the struggles of the poor. The rich, argues Murray, can afford to abandon the responsibility of marriage and the loss of its benefits. Yet they do not. The less well-off, who would most benefit from the stability of institutions such as marriage, are disinclined to embrace its strictures.

Other argue, however, that poverty is what’s keeping people from tying the knot. People don’t get married because it brings burden without benefit. Men don’t feel they can support a family, and women don’t want to be tied to a man who may be a drag on her already meager income.

Now Andrew Cherlin, the well-respected sociologist at Johns Hopkins university has weighed in with a persuasive case for a sort of middle ground. In Labor’s Loves Lost (get it? Like the Shakespeare play, only it’s about the loss of love among the laboring class), he traces the course of marriage through history, specifically the history of the economy. Marriage and the economy, he finds are inextricably linked.

What Cherlin finds that this is not the first time that there has been a wide disparity between the marital fortunes of the rich and the poor: the situation looked similar during the last Gilded Age. Inequality in bank accounts and in marital status go hand in hand.

But the cultural critics are not totally wrong. Since the last gilded age, there has been a transformation in people’s attitudes to living together without getting married. Gone is the age of the “bastard,” or the “illegitimate” child. Now, rich and poor alike believe that living together before marriage is a prudent step. (Even though the studies don’t actually confirm that.)

What this means, argues Cherlin, is that we are in whole new territory. “It is the conjunction of the polarized job market and the acceptance of partnering and parenting outside of marriage that makes the current state of the American family historically unique,” writes Cherlin. “There has never been such a large, class-linked divergence in nonmarital childbearing. There has never been such a split between marriage-based families on the top rungs of the social ladder and cohabitation- and single-parent based families on the middle and bottom rungs.”

The gap in the family life of the rich and poor yawns wider that it ever has, and the individuals most hurt by this are, you guessed, it, the children of the poor. The working class have experimented with a new type of family formation that’s not based around the equation of one partner who runs the home front, plus one partner who brings in the income, both of whom throw in their lot together for the long haul, partly because they don’t have to, but mostly becasue that is no longer an option for may of them. The new formulations tend not to be as stable, and instability is sub-optimal for kids.

Cherlin doesn’t have any easy answers for the nasty bifurcation in the family life of America. Somehow, young people have to be persuaded to delay childbirth. Somehow, people have to be educated and trained for jobs that pay enough that they can begin to feel enough ground under their feet to start a more permanent sort of life. Somehow, those jobs, such as those in manufacturing, have to be created.

None of this sounds remotely romantic. But if the crisis in American family life is to be overcome, it’s going to take more than a George Clooney movie.

TIME Royal Visit

If Kate Middleton Were a Disney Princess …

Samir Hussein—WireImage

This fairy tale needs a little magic dust

If Disney made a movie about Princess Kate’s life so far, the plot wouldn’t quite match those of Mulan or Beauty and the Beast or Frozen. Instead of enduring the usual trials, our spunky heroine has had to undergo the torment of tedious speeches, overcome the injustice of walking along receiving lines behind her spouse for hours in heels and brave her way through hundreds of face-to-face meetings with overly excited strangers who think they know her and who have terrible breath.

Not very cinematic.

But Kate and William’s upcoming visit to the U.S. could bring a little zing and contemporary color to the storyline, if treated right. Here’s how it might play out, using only the actual events on the royal couple’s schedule: Kate, one of those zany modern princesses with a degree, is pining after her old college days before she had a kid, or her ribbon-citting job, or a staff of personal dressers or her own coat of arms. So, when she hears that St. Andrews University is having its 600th anniversary in New York City — because, you know, after the first 599 years, Fife, Scotland can feel a little samey — she jumps at the chance to go.

Who wouldn’t want a trip away from the toddler and the palaces and the personal equerries — a last hurrah before the next heir to the throne arrives? But since she’s just a young mum working for her in-laws, there’s no way she could justify such an extravagance. (Cue the parsimonious P.M., naysaying all her plans.)

So Princess Kate’s husband, the relatably average-looking Prince William, who lost his beautiful mother at a young age and whose father spent his best years waiting in vain to ascend the throne (John Lasseter, you writing this down?), comes to the rescue. He figures he can wangle a business trip that will take them to the U.S. at the same time. Just like when that Scottish princess entered the archery contest so she could marry herself in Brave; devious, but all in the cause of freedom.

Sure enough there’s some corruption summit in Washington, D.C., that William has to slip away to, but Princess Kate can stay in New York City and do princessy things like meet the mayor’s wife and become besties with the old leader’s spunky daughter Chelsea, and have lunch with local townsfolk. For this montage, the Disney animators might want to create some lovable local New York City characters, like Enraged Guy on His Cell Phone and Woman Pushing All Her Belongings in a Stroller. And then when the Prince gets back they’re off to an NBA match, where casting agents could work in some celebrity cameos, like Lady Beyoncé and Lord Jay Z.

But this is the first visit of their Royal Highnesses to both New York City and Washington, D.C., so things can’t go completely smoothly. Just before they leave for their big occasion, there’s a horrible mishap. The limo taking them from their hotel on 60th Street (dear terrorists, please note I don’t actually know where they’re staying) to the ball-slash-college gala on 80th Street gets horribly lost, so they have to ride the subway. Luckily Woman Pushing All Her Belongings is there and she gets them on the C train safely, although they have to change at Columbus Circle because there’s track work.

The college reunion is a great success, even though there is no keg (after the unfortunate incident during the 354th St. Andrews get-together). But when the limo finally shows up to take them back, the Princess has a fracas with the paparazzi, loses her stiletto and steps in broken glass. Disaster! The emergency room will not take her NHS, so William saves the day — again! He’s King material! — by paying $4,000 for an X-ray and $5 for a Band-Aid.

Princess Kate might not be the most popular in the Disney line, but at least she’ll give other little girls an idea of what being a princess is really like.

TIME Parenting

What Bill Gates’ Kids Do with their Allowance

How do you teach insanely wealthy kids how to manage money?

The rich are different from you and I, but they still want to give their kids an allowance. So what do the world’s richest man’s kids do with their money? Melinda Gates came to TIME’s offices to talk about her new focus on women and children and especially on contraceptives, but she spilled some secrets about how she tries to get her kids to be purposeful with their money.

First of all, she tries to be true to her values, to articulate them and live them out. Then, they do a lot of volunteering together, at “whatever tugs at their heartstrings” says Gates. And of course, they’ve traveled with her. “They have that connection I think to the developing world,” she says. “They see the difference a flock of chicks makes in a family’s life. It’s huge.”

Read the 10 Questions with Melinda Gates here

Gates has always made a point of getting into the streets and poorer neighborhoods when she travels for meetings and conferences. And sometimes she takes her kids. It’s there, she says, that she meets mothers who tell her that their biggest struggle is having so many children. Although Gates was raised Catholic, she is heading up an initiative to get family planning information, contraceptives and services to 120 million more women by the year 2020. That includes new technology, better delivery system and a lot of education, including for men.

She’s similarly rigorous about her home life. Her kids save a third of their allowance and designate a charity they’d like to give it to. (They can also list donations to charities on their Christmas wish list.) As further incentive, their parents double whatever money they’ve saved. Which means they may be the only children in the world to get a matching grant from the Gates Foundation.

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TIME Parenting

The 5 Trends Driving the Surge in ADHD

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Researcher says it's less to do with brain chemistry and more to do with money

Until recently, 90% of all Ritalin takers lived in the U.S. Now, America is home to only 75% of Ritalin users. But that’s not because Americans are using less of the drug, says a Brandeis professor. That’s because ADHD diagnoses, and treatment via pharmaceuticals are growing in other parts of the world.

In a recent paper in the journal Social Science and Medicine, sociologists Peter Conrad and Meredith Bergey looked at the growth of ADHD in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy and Brazil and found that prescriptions for Ritalin-like drugs have risen sharply, particularly in the U.K. and Germany.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, is a controversial subject among many parents, educators and medical professionals. Some doctors insist it’s a genuine neurological condition, if occasionally over-diagnosed and not treated properly. Others believe parents are giving their children drugs unnecessarily. (For a look at what it’s like to be, or parent, an ADHD child, read TIME’s special report, Growing Up with ADHD).

Conrad and Bergey, while not doctors, fall into the second camp. They list five possible reasons for the jump in ADHD diagnoses that have little do with medicine.

1) Pharmaceutical companies are well-resourced and determined lobbyists, and have coaxed some countries to allow stimulants, such as Ritalin and Adderall to be marketed more directly.

2) Treating patients with counseling and non medical therapies is becoming less popular than treating them with medicine. (Many insurers, including Medicaid, will pay for drugs but not for psychotherapy, for example.)

3) The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), the bible of mental disorders, is gaining more traction in Europe and South America. The DSM has slightly broader standards for diagnosing ADHD than the system used by many other countries, the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD), hence more folks are falling within the standard.

4) ADHD advocacy groups are raising awareness of the condition.

5) Because everybody is occasionally fidgety and distracted and nearly everybody despairs of not getting enough done, people turn to the internet for answers and find checklists put up by drug companies, with overly general questions like: “Are you disorganized at work and home?” and “Do you start projects and then abandon them?” and encourage people to ask their doctors about medication.

According to the study, fewer than 1% of kids in the U.K. had been diagnosed with ADHD in the 1990s, but about 5% are today. In Germany, prescriptions for ADHD drugs rose 500% over 10 years, from 10 million daily doses in 1998 to 53 million in 2008. Conrad, author of The Medicalization of Society, worries that we may be addressing a sociological problem with a chemical solution.

“There is no pharmacological magic bullet,” says Conrad, who suggests that the one-size-fits-all compulsory education system might be more to blame for kids who can’t sit still rather than a flaw in brain chemistry.

“I think we may look back on this time in 50 years,” writes Conrad, “and ask, what did we do to these kids?”

TIME leadership

Melinda Gates on How Women Limit Their Opportunities

Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Gates Foundation, former Microsoft executive and spouse of the Uber-nerd has turned her attention to the issue of women and girls. Her purview is mostly the world’s poorest, but she had some things to say about how even educated and affluent women hold themselves back.

“They doubt themselves,” Melinda told TIME during this week’s 10 Questions interview. “Women don’t tend to see themselves as ready for the next role, as they ought to.” Gates, who recently raised $2.3 billion (that’s with a B) at the London Family Planning Summit, said that at first she didn’t want to head up the drive to make contraceptive choices available to women in developing countries. “I wasn’t sure I was the right person,” she said. “I kept looking for somebody else to lead the effort.”

But she noted that good managers can provide a simple workaround for this problem, simply by making sure to give the women a little nudge to throw their hats in the ring. “I think it’s up to the managers—men or women— to reach down and pull those women up and say, “No, you are ready for that promotion,” or, “You’re at least as qualified as the men.”

In the interview Gates also spoke about what she’s doing to make sure her kids handle their great wealth (including how they allocate their pocket money) and how she refocused her life after turning 50. Subscribers can read the interview here.

TIME Family

Men Want to Remarry; Women Are ‘Meh’

Ojo Images—GettyImages

Nearly two thirds of ex-married men would consider doing it again

Americans, who have lost a little of their ardor for marriage, are still pretty game to remarry. About 40% of all the new marriages in 2013 were not first marriages and in half of those cases, both spouses had ridden in that rodeo before. And new analysis from Pew Research finds that men are much more enamored of remarriage than women are.

“Most currently divorced or widowed men are open to the idea of remarriage, but women in the same circumstances are less likely to be,” says the report, which draws on figures from a survey it conducted in May and June. Almost two thirds of men either want to remarry or would at least consider it, while fewer than a half of women would.

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Perhaps it’s not surprising then that more guys do get remarried than women. Almost two thirds of men who have been married before and got divorced or were widowed wed again, whereas only a smidgen more than half of the women do.

There are lots of possible reasons for the gender discrepancy. Women tend to live longer, so they may outlast all their potential suitors. Or, since women now have more economic freedom than they did 50 years ago, they may feel less need for a partner. And while women still bear the bulk of the home care duties, once liberated, they may feel disinclined to enter into another legally binding agreement to look after somebody else.

However, the Pew analysis seems to suggest that the guys are being the shrewder partners, at least financially. “On key economic measures, remarried adults fare better than their currently divorced counterparts and about as well as those in their first marriages,” says the report, which gets its figures from analyzing American Community Survey data. Only 7% of people who are remarried live in poverty, compared to 19% of people who are divorced and still single. “Homeownership, which often reflects wealth, is also much higher for the remarried than the divorced—79% versus 58%.”

Of course, it may not be that the spouses are more financially stable because they are married. It might be that more financially stable people are in a better position to attract partners, build sturdy relationships and get married.

Slightly less than a quarter of all people who are married in the U.S. today are actually remarried people. Fifty years ago, they only represented about 13% of married people. In the same half century, marriage has fallen quite markedly out of favor among the young. But so far, the majority of people who have tried it are willing to give it another go.

TIME Comedy

John Cleese Chooses His Top 5 Sketches

The ex-Python digs into his archive to unearth some little-seen gems

In the course of John Cleese’s interview this week for TIME’s 10 Questions, the British comedy icon named the top five sketches he has written and/or performed in. He loves his Monty Python work, but given that it “would not be terribly interesting” to choose his best-known skits, he named some of his less celebrated comic works:

1. The Cheese Shop

Cleese conceived of the Cheese Shop sketch with his writing partner Graham Chapman after enduring a bout of seasickness in which he threw up on a cameraman twice, he recounts in his new memoir, So Anyway. He was looking so piqued as the duo drove home from the shoot that Chapman offered to buy him cheese, but the only store open was a pharmacy, so they began to imagine what it would be like to buy cheese there. Not long after that, one of his favorite sketches was born.

2. The Beekeeper

He’d also put on his list of favorites the Beekeeper sketch, here performed with that other British comedy icon best known for playing nutty characters (in this case, Mr. Bean), Rowan Atkinson.

3. The Bookshop

This sketch was originally shown on The 1948 Show, which ran on ITV in 1967 and 1968. “I think this was a classic,” says Cleese.

4. The Hearing Aid

This sketch, also from The 1948 Show, is clearly a precursor to some of his other manic shopkeeper exchanges.

5. A Fish Called Wanda’s torture scene

“It’s not a sketch but it’s a scene,” says Cleese. “I think that was one of the funniest things I wrote.”

Cleese lists two other favorites, a sketch from The Frost Report (on BBC between 1966 and 1967) in which he played a Sherlock Holmes-like character and a court scene also starring Tim Brooke Taylor from the show Cambridge Circus, a London theatrical production of a show that originated at Cambridge University and starred many of the performers who would go on to dominate England’s comedy scene. We’ll have to take his word for it, because neither of those sketches are available on the Internet.

While the Cheese Shop became one of his favorite creations, initially Cleese was dubious about whether it was funny. Chapman, who died in 1989, had to reassure him to keep writing it. “I was always reliant for those things on Graham,” Cleese said in his TIME interview. “He seemed to have a better judgment of what was funny than I did. Later on I think my judgment got better, but I’ve always found it difficult, even at this stage of my life, to know whether something was slightly funny or whether it’s terribly funny.”

Read John Cleese’s 10 Questions interview in TIME (subscription required)

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