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GP24Dec: Dear Santa Claus

Dear Santa.  Everything is topsy turvy.  We're late in writing this year, what with an ice storm here, a drought there, an Enron here, a Tyco there.  This is the first time we've entrusted a note to you to the Internet, but we thought, "Why not?  Santa is using the web a lot more."  Not only can we chart your progress across the skies every year on the NORAD website (www.noradsanta.org), but there are a cluster of fine places to go now to find out what you are up to.  We just visited www.claus.com, where we were able to check on the Naughty or Nice ratings to get an idea whether you would be coming our way for Christmas.

We Still Believe.  We just got hold of your note to Douglas, a young lad in California, where you said, "It has come to my attention that you have been having some doubts about me.  One of my most trusted elves actually thinks you no longer believe in Santa Claus.  Is this true?  If so, I hope this letter puts all your suspicions to rest.  I know that you chatted with one of my surrogates while visiting your favorite department store at the Newport Mall.  George (for that is his real name) was supposed to give you this note, but completely forgot."  Santa, we are sorry that such doubts could possibly arise.  And also, that George let you down:  it's hard to find good helpers anymore.  Thank goodness you are always here--one bit of permanence in a world where many other delights and mysteries are disappearing.

Santa, we are still very much in your thrall.  Were we to put aside a treasured old friend such as you, we would not know how to fill the void.  Increasingly, we find, old friends (and new friends for that matter) are the best barrier against the turmoil and upsets of the day.  We imagine you heard that Stephen Ambrose died this year, and he seemed to be a fellow who understood that amigos are everything.  His best book, Comrades, Brothers, Fathers, Heroes, Sons, Pals, and even his histories (one of our buddies particularly likes Band of Brothers) dealt with the close bonds between men, and it is for this celebration of human ties that he will surely be remembered.  That's why, Santa, we never let you go.

Inventing Christmas.  An old friend, onetime chair of Oglivy & Mather, Jock Eliot, is out with a book this year, replete with wonderful illustrations, that tells us all about how Christmas came to be.  It's called Inventing Christmas.  Fulsome Jock always looks a little like a grey flannel Santa Claus, and there could be no better teller of the Christmas story.  But don't worry, Santa, he will not steal your thunder, and though full of cheer, he does not quite capture your heigh ho.  You are still the only real Santa Claus.

Green Thoughts.  Santa, knowing you are an environmental Claus, we want to give you some good news.  For years you have told us that you have felt terrible about the massive wrappings on all your presents, feeling that you and the elves are making a mess of things with all the resulting garbage.  Ah, but look at our Global Wit and Wisdom section where you will learn that scientists say garbage per capita is on the decline because packaging materials are so much lighter now than they were 50 years ago.  The paper around Jock's book will not despoil the earth.

By the way, when you have a few moments while en route this year, we hope you will take a look at greenery at its best.  Take along with you Remarkable Trees of the World, which has just been published, and which we discussed on the Best of Class section of Global Province.  These stalwart trees reaching for the clouds will surely give you extra incentive to make next year's trip, knowing that they will be there to greet you on every journey.  Also, you might just take a look at the list of birding books under "Birds Are Big" in our Big Ideas section.  Birding is becoming one of the nation's biggest outdoor activities, and you might as well do a little of this sport while you are aloft.

Invisible Friends.  You're not the only dear friend who's out of sight but not out of mind.  This season brings into one room memories of all the distant acquaintances who live at the far reaches of the globe.

Now this computer thing ain't all that it's cracked up to be, but we must tell you, Santa, that we have harvested from the virtual ether a whole nest of new friends this year with whom we have never spoken and to whom we feel close.  The antiquarian at the British Museum.  The world's foremost expert on the medicinal use of plants.  The venture capitalist up in New York who would much rather talk about chaos theory and Spenser than his investments in unlikely technologies that excite the pocketbook but not the mind.  We are hoping that 2003 will put us on the doorsteps of these most interesting people and the other delightful folks who have floated into our orbit.

Norway or Bust.  Santa, stop off in Norway, the only country we have not been to up Scandanavia way.  The Saturday New York Times talked about its big exports--oil, herring, and peace.  Every time peace breaks out somewhere, it seems as if the Norwegians are involved, whether in Croatia, the Phillipines, Sri Lanka, or Timbuktu.  You know it just seems as if small nations are much better at waging peace than big nations.  If you could get us some while you are there, we would love to find it under our Christmas tree.  Neither UPS nor FedEx can get it here on time. 

Friendship and Business.  Santa, we used to say that the best business is done on a handshake.  We're hoping to see a bit more of that in 2003.  Lawyers, accountants, investment bankers, and government types create transaction costs that suck the life out of enterprises.  And yet, big, massive enterprises that supposedly avoid these costs
just don't do things very well, creating very average products and pursuing terribly mediocre goals.  Santa, you have a small, focused enterprise that does wonders across the globe, because everything is done on the basis of trust and a heigh ho between friendly people.  We could only wish for more of this kind of business, business fueled and guided by the principles of friendship, in the years ahead.  Enterprise flows from good behavior, not from legal mumbo jumbo.  Distrust is so very costly.  

United Health.  Every day we learn that a little friendliness is good business.  United Health Group, way out in the U.S. heartland, knows more about patient friendliness than its competitors and has the sales and profits to show for it.   As we have noted in the Agile Companies part of the Global Province, it provides for the very experimental breast cancer therapies its peers have resisted.  And it lets its members talk right to the specialists they should see, rather than forcing them to visit middlemen doctors first.   Santa, its stock is probably a good stocking stuffer, and we should all be on the lookout for companies that understand what friendly feeling is all about.   More and more, Santa, smart investors will be valuing companies by toting up their intangibles.

Best of the Week.  Surely this spirit of comity informs Craft, one of the relatively new intriguing restaurants in Manhattan.  Cousin Tod thinks it's the tops.  It has a tantalizing atmosphere, supremely good food of simple design, and a cookbook that captures the creative ferment afoot here.  Last night its ginger snaps, using fresh ginger, came out of our oven, so you will have exquisite cookies with your milk when you stop at our house this year.  We realize, Santa, that there's no need to teach an old dog new tricks, but, nonetheless, we will be talking about Craft in coming weeks on the Global Province, and we hope you find it a bit alluring.  Be sure to tell us what the elves think of the cookies.

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