January 13, 2019 in 2,514 words

American educators are treating Trump’s presidency as the ultimate teachable moment


Stephen Uhlhorn teaches social studies to seventh- and eighth-graders at Western Hill High School in Ohio. And in every class, regardless of the historical period under discussion, there’s one person who’s always on his students’ minds.

Donald Trump, Uhlhorn says, is “inescapable” even in daily lessons.

“I’m teaching Ancient Rome right now to my seventh graders,” he says, “and we’re covering Hadrian’s wall,” the 73-mile-long stone fortification in northern Britain, built at the behest of emperor Hadrian to fortify the boundaries between the Romans and the so-called “barbarians.” “And so the kids are like ‘the wall doesn’t work,’ and other kids are a little more like ‘we have to keep people out.’ So even when you’re not covering Trump or current events, things come up.”

Stephen Uhlhorn teaches social studies to seventh- and eighth-graders at Western Hill High School in Ohio. And in every class, regardless of the historical period under discussion, there’s one person who’s always on his students’ minds.

Donald Trump, Uhlhorn says, is “inescapable” even in daily lessons.

“I’m teaching Ancient Rome right now to my seventh graders,” he says, “and we’re covering Hadrian’s wall,” the 73-mile-long stone fortification in northern Britain, built at the behest of emperor Hadrian to fortify the boundaries between the Romans and the so-called “barbarians.” “And so the kids are like ‘the wall doesn’t work,’ and other kids are a little more like ‘we have to keep people out.’ So even when you’re not covering Trump or current events, things come up.”

Uhlhorn is just one of many teachers across the US grappling with the question of how to teach Trump’s presidency, which is markedly different from recent administrations. Unlike his predecessors, Trump uses social media to announce policy changes and confront other public figures (paywall); has eschewed traditional US alliances; and flouts many of the conventions and traditions associated with his office.

These changes have prompted some history, civics, political science and social science teachers across the US to adjust their curriculums, change their teaching styles, and institute new classroom rules that seem better suited to the changing political moment.

Closing down sale: is this the end of Sears?

The bricks-and-mortar chain is the latest high-profile victim of the shift to online shopping but some wounds are self-inflicted

The famous art deco Sears store in Brooklyn, New York. Eleanor Roosevelt was the first shopper in 1932.

There can be few bleaker testaments to the beleaguered condition of US retail than the Sears department store in Flatbush, Brooklyn. Once a flagship of the world’s largest retailer, the landmarked art deco building was opened in 1932 by Eleanor Roosevelt, who made the first purchase ever in this location, “a pair of baby booties”, according to the Brooklyn Eagle. There’s little of that historic legacy on display today.

There is just one entrance open at the store now. The walls are a dirty beige and much of the merchandise sub-discount. Yet many of the shoppers said they were pleased to come and browse. Unlike hundreds of shuttered stores across the country, it is at least still in business.

“It’s been here for so long. It’s like a staple of the neighborhood,” said Waverly Atkins, who’d come to buy a new filter for her refrigerator. “I’d miss it if it were gone.”

Last week, Sears narrowly avoided a deadline for liquidation after a New York bankruptcy judge permitted Eddie Lampert, whose hedge fund ranks as Sears’ biggest shareholder and creditor, more time to improve his offer for the company’s assets, another step in his decade-long, seemingly quixotic, effort to keep the ailing retailer afloat.

On Monday the company’s fate will be decided at an auction when Lampert’s now $5bn bid will go up against liquidators who are planning to shut the retailer down.

Sears has been teetering on the edge of collapse since October when Lampert, who holds around $2.5bn of the $5.5bn debt load, placed the 133-year-old company in bankruptcy protection.

The secret to “deep time” projects that do good for future generations


The past is the evidence on which the future rests.

If you don’t appreciate history, you won’t be able to predict the future. Seeing ahead clearly requires looking backward.

That’s how “deep time” projects come to exist. Those who work on behalf of coming generations aren’t thinking of the future in an abstract vacuum. They have an expansive sense of time that includes all the yesterdays and tomorrows, and they build upon the past.

Take, for example, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which safeguards 10,000 years of agricultural diversity from around the world. The vault is a global effort to ensure the future of food diversity in light of lost knowledge. It’s “a legacy we can’t leave to chance,” according to the vault’s creators. They explain, “Throughout the history of agriculture, farmers have generated a seemingly endless diversity within crops, discovering ingenious solutions to local challenges… Crop diversity allows farmers to feed the world. But this diversity is not in fact endless. It is disappearing, and once lost, it’s lost forever.”

Likewise, the Long Now Foundation fosters long-term thinking with various projects, like the design of a clock deep inside a mountain in West Texas that is meant to tick for 10,000 years, and the creation of a library preserving 1,500 world languages for posterity. In a similar vein, the World Arctic Archive is a “future-proof” data storage vault in an abandoned mine in Norway, designed to hold precious works in safekeeping for all of time. Only by understanding the value of what has been lost from the past—and what still remains—can people be motivated to save information for the future.

Hanger And The Munchies: 5 Common Food Feelings Explained

Over the years, it’s become our mission to explain the weird sensations, feelings, and fears that we, the planet’s most anxiety-ridden species, experience on a day-to-day basis. There’s one facet of the human experience that we haven’t yet covered, though: food. Which is fine, because we’re going to do exactly that right now.

5. Marijuana Causes “Munchies” Because THC Makes Everything Smell Great

According to one of the best documentaries on the subject, smoking marijuana causes users to experience the “munchies” — a hunger so voracious that the ensuing destruction resembles a disaster movie about a black hole made of locusts that only attacks dorm kitchens. (Or at least, that’s what we’ve heard.) We’re having enough problems with normal lettuce, so tangling with the devil’s lettuce is just asking for trouble.

There’s a perfectly scientific explanation for the “munchies,” the long and short of which is that weed just makes everything smell awesome, man.

Like this, except the sentient smell hand leads to a Taco Bell.

In a 2014 study published in Nature Neuroscience, a team of neuroscientists pumped mice full of THC, the ingredient that gives marijuana its trademark kick. When they later put the mice under the microscope (miceroscope?), they found something fascinating: The THC had seeped into their brains and attached itself to the olfactory bulb (the part of the brain that governs sense of smell).

This wasn’t just biological couchsurfing, though. The THC also supercharged the bulb, giving the mice an unbelievable boost in how far (and how richly) they could smell. And since look and smell are the two most important factors in judging whether to cram something down your neck, this resulted in the mice eating waaay more food than they normally would. Remember, humans are just very large mice, when you get down to it.

The Nazi Spy Tactic That Almost Destroyed Britain’s Economy

The German army’s Operation Bernhard sought to flood the British economy with counterfeit bills.

DURING WORLD WAR II, THE German army employed a novel type of espionage that they dubbed “Operation Bernhard.” The idea involved Nazi designers creating elaborate printing plates that mimicked British currency, in order to flood the enemy economy with counterfeit bills. Vince Houghton, a curator and historian at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., describes this strategy as economic espionage.

According to Houghton, the plates were impressive in their mimicry. British bills had several protections against counterfeit, including regulated serial numbers, watermarks, and the use of a specific type of paper. The German army printed over eight million fake bills during the war. As Houghton puts it, this tactic “is indicative of intelligence agencies and governments trying to find the edge—the way to defeat their enemy any way possible.” In 1945, the Germans attempted to destroy the evidence of Operation Bernhard in advance of their imminent defeat. The plates and bills were dumped into a deep lake in Austria. The remnants of the operation were only discovered later.

In the video above, Atlas Obscura gets a close-up look at the only surviving plate that retains its intricate design.

Should anyone really own the phrase “Hakuna Matata”


“The Lion King” on Broadway in New York.

The Walt Disney Company, a purveyor of cultural products, services and experiences, showcases stories primarily to Americans, then Europeans and people wherever they have Disney Worlds or Disneyland Resorts, and lastly to the rest of the world. Disney also own other entertainment multiverses, such as Lucasfilm, the home of Star Wars, and Marvel Studios, the comic book and superhero movie juggernaut.

Nobody’s under the illusion Disney is here to do anything except rack up dollars, using culture in various forms as a medium.

Noting this, it makes sense its executives would want to create unique merchandise that allows people to take memories of their stories home from the screen.

One example of this strategy is the Swahili phrase “Hakuna Matata”, meaning “No Problems”. Disney’s 1994 animated feature, The Lion King, features a fast-talking meerkat and an ebullient warthog who sing this catchphrase, tying zen vacation wisdom with friendship and new beginnings, to help a traumatized lion cub find a moment’s respite from grief at losing his father.

Trademarking “Hakuna Matata” gives Disney the right to emblazon it on anything from fridge magnets to sweatshirts, or even have a tinny recording of it in a press-and-play plush toy. From Disney’s perspective they had to secure the rights to use it. Now the upcoming live action 2019 reboot will introduce a whole new generation to the phrase as part of a story that locates Shakespearean intrigues in tropical animal kingdoms.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: The morality of a trademark is a bone of contention for Africans: dignity is apparently only for those with high GDPs.

Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

American nuclear power plants produce a lot of radioactive waste, more than 2,000 tons each year, and there’s a lot of controversy over where to put it.

For now, it’s spread out in temporary storage casks at about 70 sites across the country, but the Trump administration is eyeing a site in Nevada as a permanent solution.

The U.S. Department of Energy decided in 1987 that the best place to put the waste is inside a mountain in the Nevada desert, about 100 miles from Las Vegas. But that project — the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository — has been tied up in permitting red-tape and politics, as Nevada’s elected leaders have aimed to protect their state from catastrophe if something goes wrong. Pressured by powerful then-U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, the Obama administration stopped funding for the Yucca Mountain project’s license in 2010.

But Reid is gone. And President Trump’s Department of Energy has expressed interest in restarting research and development at Yucca Mountain. Seeing an opening, Illinois Republican Rep. John Shimkus, chair of the Environment Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has plowed ahead with a bill passed through the House that would bring Yucca Mountain much closer to opening its doors.

But another Nevada senator is standing in the way. This time, it’s U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, a Republican, who has pledged that Nevada will never be the nation’s nuclear waste dumping ground.

Dark skies are disappearing across the United States.

Today, more than 80 percent of Americans can’t see the Milky Way from their home cities. But deep in rural Idaho, the skies are alive.

The International Dark-Sky Association has named nearly a million acres in central Idaho a Dark Sky Reserve, a designation that means counties and towns in the area pledge to take measures to keep the dark, well, dark.

THANKS to HBO and VICE News for making this program available on YouTube.

Trevor talks about how a well-written post from an actor who uses a wheelchair changed his perspective on who should portray people with disabilities onscreen.

THANKS to Comedy Central and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah for making this program available on YouTube.

CAUTION: Some language may not be appropriate for work or children.

A news story about lab-grown meat drives Jim to ask an important question: Where are all the actual chickens we’re supposedly eating?

THANKS to Comedy Central and The Jim Jeffries Show for making this program available on YouTube.

透明な箱に入っているまるを堪能する動画。This is the video to thoroughly enjoy Maru who is in the transparent box.


The Great Boston Molasses Flood: why the strange disaster matters today

An obscure accident led to the first class action lawsuit against a major company, paving the way for modern regulation,

On 15 January 1919, a massive tank containing 2.2m gallons of molasses burst in Boston, causing the death of 21 people.

For bystanders, the first clue something was wrong was a sound different from the usual thrum of the overhead train. The Boston Evening Transcript later described it as “a deep rumble.”

At around 1pm on 15 January 1919, a 50ft-tall steel holding tank on Commercial Street in Boston’s North End ruptured, sending 2.3m gallons of molasses pouring into the neighborhood.

Owned by the United States Industrial Alcohol Company, the molasses had been brought to the city from the Caribbean, then piped from the harbor to the vat through 220ft of heated piping. The tank was built in 1915 to accommodate increased wartime demand. But from its inception, it leaked.

On 13 January, it had been filled almost to capacity. Two days later, parts of the metal tank ripped though trusses of the elevated train track, 20ft below. Horses and people were swept away.

Isaac Yetton was hauling a load of automobile inner tubes into a shed when he heard a snap. According to court transcripts, he saw an electric railway car swinging towards him, along with bottles and freight boxes. He ran toward the harbor, only to be overtaken by a wave of molasses.

Groundhog Day

I’m working every day this week. I’ll post more errant ramblings barely uninteresting at all things as I find time to read and relax.

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