Stuff YOU Should Know

Posted by on Oct 13, 2016 in Stuff You Should Know

Hurricane Matthew Slams U.S. Coast

Hurricane Matthew made landfall in the U.S. late last week. It lingered along the coast for four days, bringing heavy rain and wind before finally heading back out to sea on Sunday, when it was downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone.

Residents in Florida, Georgia, Virginia, and the Carolinas all suffered widespread power outages, flooding, and even loss of life. As of Tuesday evening, at least 33 people in the U.S. have been killed by Hurricane Matthew. The death toll continues to rise as many of the southern states, particularly North Carolina, suffer devastating flooding. In some places, flood waters may not crest until Friday.

The hurricane, which is responsible for over a thousand deaths in Haiti and elsewhere in the Caribbean, brought heavy rainfall to the Southern states–as much as fifteen inches in some places–which has led to severe flooding in many areas. Over a million people in the South are currently without power, and in some places it might take up to several weeks to get the electricity back on. In the meantime, thousands are displaced. Some officials suggest that this could be the costliest storm to hit the area since Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

Dig Deeper Use Internet resources to research the Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations working right now to aid people in the South who have lost their homes and possessions. Are there ways in which you, your family, or your classmates could help with the Hurricane Matthew relief effort as well? Share your findings with the class.

American Jobs and the Election

On Friday, the U.S. Labor Department issued its monthly employment report. The government will release another report on November 4, but because many early ballots will already be cast by then, this week’s report will likely be the one with the greatest effect on the upcoming November 8 election.

Republicans can point out that the unemployment rate rose slightly, from 4.9 to 5 percent. Only 156,000 new jobs were added: a slowdown from the recent average monthly gain of 178,000. Also, the ratio of Americans working remains proportionately much lower than it was eight years ago. Manufacturing jobs were hit particularly hard during September, dropping by 13,000.

However, Democrats can argue that despite these numbers, the economy continues to improve. Average hourly wages have risen steadily over the past year, and so has the number of people in the workforce: nearly half a million more people are employed this year than last. Furthermore, while jobs requiring manual or physical labor continue to decline, the number of jobs requiring higher education and/or specialized skills remains on the rise. The booming housing market has also meant an increase of 23,000 new construction jobs in September alone.

The slowing rate of job growth is expected, and even healthy, as the economy approaches full employment. However, there is no doubt that many Americans, particularly those in traditionally labor-based jobs, still face unemployment and other economic hardships. It remains to be seen how much these employment numbers will affect voters’ decisions on November 8.

Dig Deeper Using the information in the article and other Internet resources, create a graph illustrating one of the following scenarios: the monthly unemployment rate during 2016; the rising average hourly wage over the past year; or the number of new jobs created each month since January. Based on your graph, do you think that the U.S. economy is improving? Why or why not? Give evidence to defend your answer.

Do Teens Learn Faster Than Adults?

Has anyone ever accused you of not thinking things through enough? Of acting irresponsibly? Or of taking risks without worrying about the potential consequences? It turns out that this kind of thinking may actually give teens the advantage over adults in certain situations.

An electroencephylogram measures brain activity;

An electroencephylogram measures brain activity; Credit: minemero/iStockphoto/Getty Images

Studies have shown that teenage brains are hard-wired to seek out rewards and thrills, which often causes risky or impulsive, rather than responsible, behavior. Researchers at Harvard University recently conducted a study to find out why this is.

In the study of 41 teens and 31 adults, scientists used fMRI scanners to monitor the brain activity of participants as they played a series of learning games. The researchers asked the participants questions, and in between questions, they showed the participants pictures of random, neutral objects. Later, participants were given a memory test in which they were asked to recall the random pictures they had seen.

In the initial question-and-answer game, the teens outperformed the adults. The scientists believe that this is because teens’ hunger for positive feedback (getting an answer correct) encouraged them to make better guesses and repeat successful answer choices.

The teenagers and adults scored about the same on the memory test. However, researchers discovered that the teenagers were more likely to remember the pictures they associated with getting a question right in the learning game. In other words, teens’ desire for a “reward,” or positive reinforcement–in this case, answering a question correctly–actually sharpened their ability to remember certain things.

It is important to note that this is only one study. However, the results seem to indicate that teens’ desire for rewards and thrills may actually help encourage them to leave familiar surroundings, seek new experiences, and learn from them–a very useful skill as they prepare to leave home and venture out into the world on their own.

So the next time someone accuses you of being impulsive or irresponsible, remember to try to take it as a compliment.

What Do You Think? Come up with a list of five times in your life when you have been impulsive or taken a risk. How might the outcome of each of these events have changed if you had taken the time to consider all of the possible consequences before you acted? Based on your experiences, would you agree with the study’s findings that reward-seeking behavior may actually be useful for teens in some situations? Explain your answer.

A “Foodie” Historian

Have you ever had coffee? What about watermelon, or okra? You may not know that all of these popular foods originated in Africa and were brought to the United States as part of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Many people love to eat traditional Southern dishes, such as black-eyed peas or macaroni and cheese. However, we don’t often take time to think about where these foods come from. Michael Twitty, a food historian and Judaic studies teacher from Washington, D.C., teaches about the link between the history and the foods of the American South. He wants people to understand where our food traditions come from, and to give credit to the enslaved Africans who helped to create them.

Talking about food, Twitty points out, makes people feel comfortable and opens the door to more important conversations about slavery in general. Food is also important politically and economically: for example, hungry enslaved persons would have been severely punished for taking the food of slaveholders. Twitty wants African Americans to feel proud of the contributions they have made not just to the food, but to the larger cultural fabric of the United States as well. He believes that we express our identities through how we eat, and that there is a close connection between our food history and our family history. Food is more than just calories: it tells a story about who we are, and where we come from.

Which just goes to show: it might be true that we are what we eat, after all.

Dig Deeper Describe one of your family’s favorite food dishes. Is it prepared a certain way, or in honor of certain occasions? Why is this particular food special to your family? Do some Internet research to discover the origins of this important dish. Where does it come from? Does your family’s favorite food teach you anything about your personal history?