February 19, 2019 in 1,511 words


to set a mood • • •


A brief history of presidential downtime—from Roosevelt to Trump

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Trump isn’t the first US president to face criticism for his work ethic.


No one doubts the job of president of the United States is stressful and demanding. The chief executive deserves downtime.

But how much is enough, and when is it too much?

These questions came into focus after Axios’ release of President Donald Trump’s schedule. The hours blocked off for nebulous “executive time” seem, to many critics, disproportionate to the number of scheduled working hours.

While Trump’s workdays may ultimately prove to be shorter than those of past presidents, he’s not the first to face criticism. For every president praised for his work ethic, there’s one disparaged for sleeping on the job.

Teddy Roosevelt, locomotive president

Before Theodore Roosevelt ascended to the presidency in 1901, the question of how hard a president toiled was of little concern to Americans.

Except in times of national crisis, his predecessors neither labored under the same expectations, nor faced the same level of popular scrutiny. Since the country’s founding, Congress had been the main engine for identifying national problems and outlining legislative solutions. Congressmen were generally more accessible to journalists than the president was.

But when Roosevelt shifted the balance of power from Congress to the White House, he created the expectation that an activist president, consumed by affairs of state, would work endlessly in the best interests of the people.

Roosevelt, whom Sen. Joseph Foraker called a “steam engine in trousers,” personified the hard-working chief executive. He filled his days with official functions and unofficial gatherings. He asserted his personality on policy and stamped the presidency firmly on the nation’s consciousness.


Mega lift? Stonehenge pillars were carried 230km over land – research

Archaeologists say up to 80 two-ton blocks may have been dragged from Preseli hills.


Discovery of two monolith quarries undermine theory that the bluestone pillars of Stonehenge were taken from Wales to Wiltshire by sea, researchers say.

They are among the most famous and most enigmatic mysteries in all of archaeology: how did neolithic builders, using only stone, wooden and bone tools, carve Stonehenge’s bluestone pillars from the hilltops of western Wales – and how on earth did they transport them more than 230km (143 miles) to Salisbury plain?

Now, an excavation has found intriguing new evidence of the method by which the huge stones were chiselled out of the rock face at two craggy outcrops of the Preseli hills in Pembrokeshire.

The location of the two monolith quarries, according to the archaeologists, undermines the theory that the stones were taken to Wiltshire by sea, instead suggesting the two-ton blocks, up to 80 in number, were dragged or carried over land.

The archaeologists’ research also supports the tantalising possibility, they say, that the bluestones – thought to date from the very first phase of construction at Stonehenge – may have first been used in a stone circle in Wales, before that monument was dismantled and transported hundreds of kilometres south-east, for reasons which remain a mystery.


Lyndon LaRouche Was A Maniac Who Gave Us Modern Politics

Lyndon LaRouche is dead at 96.

For those of you lucky enough to have no idea who he is, imagine if the choice cuts of Jordan Peterson, Alex Jones, David Miscavige, and the platonic ideal of a Bernie Bro were put into a blender, then filtered through a philosophy degree. He ran for president eight times between 1976 and 2004, each effort about as successful as our own. He was the butt of jokes and often accused of being a cult leader, and throughout his decades of clinging to the fringes, he helped create the world we live in today. A world where anyone who pauses to consider the facts must be an elitist monster out to destroy America.

Somehow, he skipped “president” and was promoted directly to “soul of the nation.”

ntire (deeply cursed) books could be (and have been) written on LaRouche’s life, but a few of his key ideas should give you a sense of how many Lovecraftian spiders were living in his brain. LaRouche believed *deep breath* that the Holocaust was a myth, that rogue elements of the U.S. military participated in 9/11, that the British royal family secretly controls the world’s drug trade, that climate change is a plot to destroy America, that people with HIV are part of the “lower sexual classes” and must be quarantined, and also, for some reason, that there’s a nefarious conspiracy to control the standard of musical pitch, and that rock music was invented by British intelligence to wreak havoc in the U.S.


WHY A GRAPE TURNS INTO A FIREBALL IN A MICROWAVE

THE INTERNET IS full of videos of thoughtful people setting things on fire. Here’s a perennial favorite: Cleave a grape in half, leaving a little skin connecting the two hemispheres. Blitz it in the microwave for five seconds. For one glorious moment, the grape halves will produce a fireball unfit for domestic life.

Physicist Stephen Bosi tried the experiment back in 2011 for the YouTube channel Veritasium, in the physics department’s break room at the University of Sydney. On camera, he and the show’s host whooped in the glow of the grape. “Who needs drugs?” Bosi yells in the video, as a particularly psychedelic plume erupts. Off-camera, they discovered they had burned the interior of the physics department microwave.

It’s a crowd pleaser, as long as you avoid melting your kitchen appliances. But it turns out, even after millions of YouTube views and probably tens of scorched microwaves, no one knew exactly why the fireball forms. Popular online explanations usually say that the grape halves act like an antenna, and they somehow direct microwaves onto the small bridge of skin to ignite the initial spark. But nobody had actually done the math to prove it. After several summers of microwaving grape-shaped objects and simulating the microwaving of those objects—a trio of physicists in Canada may have finally figured it out.


FINALLY . . .

How the world got hooked on palm oil

t’s the miracle ingredient in everything from biscuits to shampoo. But our dependence on palm oil has devastating environmental consequences. Is it too late to break the habit.


Orangutans rescued near a palm oil plantation in Kalimantan, Indonesia.


Once upon a time in a land far, far away, there grew a magical fruit. This fruit could be squeezed to produce a very special kind of oil that made cookies more healthy, soap more bubbly and crisps more crispy. The oil could even make lipstick smoother and keep ice-cream from melting. Because of these wondrous qualities, people came from around the world to buy the fruit and its oil.

In the places where the fruit came from, people burned down the forest so they could plant more trees that grew the fruit – making lots of nasty smoke and sending all of the creatures of the forest scurrying away. When the trees were burned, they emitted a gas that heated up the air. Then everybody was upset, because they loved the forest’s creatures and thought the temperature was warm enough already. A few people decided they shouldn’t use the oil any more, but mostly things went on as before, and the forest kept burning.

This is a true story. Except that it is not magic. The fruit of the oil palm tree (Elaeis guineensis), which grows in tropical climates, contains the world’s most versatile vegetable oil. It can handle frying without spoiling, and blends well with other oils. Its combination of different types of fats and its consistency after refining make it a popular ingredient in packaged baked goods. Its low production costs make it cheaper than frying oils such as cottonseed or sunflower. It provides the foaming agent in virtually every shampoo, liquid soap or detergent. Cosmetics manufacturers prefer it to animal tallow for its ease of application and low price. It is increasingly used as a cheap raw material for biofuels, especially in the European Union. It functions as a natural preservative in processed foods, and actually does raise the melting point of ice-cream. Palm oil can be used as an adhesive that binds together the particles in fibreboard. Oil palm trunks and fronds can be made into everything from plywood to the composite body of Malaysia’s national automobile.

Worldwide production of palm oil has been climbing steadily for five decades. Between 1995 and 2015, annual production quadrupled, from 15.2m tonnes to 62.6m tonnes. By 2050, it is expected to quadruple again, reaching 240m tonnes. The footprint of palm oil production is astounding: plantations to produce it account for 10% of all global cropland. Today, 3 billion people in 150 countries use products containing palm oil. Globally, we each consume an average of 8kg of palm oil a year.

Of this, 85% comes from Malaysia and Indonesia, where worldwide demand for palm oil has lifted incomes, especially in rural areas – but at the cost of tremendous environmental devastation and often with attendant labour and human rights abuses.

PREPARE TO SPEND A WHILE; It’s The Long Read.

Ed. More tomorrow? Possibly. Maybe. Probably Not. Groundhog Day.