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The Greatest Story Ever Told About Hyperbole, Humbug, and P.T. Barnum!

By | October 27, 2017

In 1835, Phineas Taylor Barnum was down on his luck and anxious to find an “amusement” that would attract paying customers. One lucky day a stranger came into the shop where Barnum worked and told him that he possessed half-ownership of a “curiosity”: a woman named Joice Heth who, the stranger claimed, was the 161-year-old slave who raised George Washington.
Barnum examined Heth and the …

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How Tea Became a Weapon in Darjeeling’s Ethnic Struggle

By | October 25, 2017

Darjeeling tea is a world-renowned product that reliably flows from India’s highlands, where it has been grown for more than a century. But since early this summer, none of it has reached global markets.
A newly revived independence movement has cut tea exports, stopped the region’s tourism, and shut down schools. The Gorkhaland movement asks for independence from the state of West Bengal. Activists have …

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Today’s Mass Killings Shouldn’t Distort Our Assessment of Everyday Risk

By | October 24, 2017

In the midst of the Second Intifada, in summer 2001, I was living in the dorms at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Normally bustling streets were nearly empty. Signs in store windows offered discounts for the “brave tourists” who ventured inside despite the growing violence and tension. Being constantly on alert exhausted me, a short-term visitor insulated from many of the complexities of what was unfolding. …

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Bitcoin Is an Energy-Wasting Ponzi Scheme

By | October 20, 2017

Digital currencies, in their current form, should be prohibited by law. And not because they are a Ponzi scheme (which they are), and not because they can help facilitate criminal activity (which they do), but because they incur colossal social waste.
This waste is energy. The media organization Diginomics estimates that the energy consumption to fuel bitcoin is equivalent to the consumption of just under …

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The Invention and Evolution of the Concentration Camp

By | October 18, 2017

Before the first prisoner entered the Soviet Gulag, before “Arbeit macht frei” appeared on the gates of Auschwitz, before the 20th century had even begun, concentration camps found their first home in the cities and towns of Cuba.
The earliest modern experiment in detaining groups of civilians without trial was launched by two generals: one who refused to bring camps into the world, and one …

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What Losing a War Does to a Nation’s Psyche

By | October 17, 2017

In the spring of 1976, while visiting the Tokyo Zoo, I was confronted with the unforgettable sight of an aging former Japanese soldier, wearing a ragged army uniform and cap, and bowing before all who entered.
One of his legs had been amputated. A begging bowl before him, he bowed as low as he could to Japanese families coming to see the newly arrived pandas. …

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Is India’s Rise Creating a Global Health Crisis?

By | October 13, 2017

A 59-year-old man from India, who was living in Sweden, visited New Delhi in late 2007, where he was hospitalized for an infection and treated with an array of antibiotics. Once he was back in Sweden, in early 2008, he was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection that could not be cured with the antibiotics that are considered a last resort against resistant infections. When …

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Can American Jews Be White Nationalists?

By | October 11, 2017

Stephen Miller and I have a few things in common.
Both Jewish, we were raised upper-middle class in comfortable, liberal suburbia (he, Santa Monica; me, outside Boston). We both rebelled against the stifling, progressive conformity of our respective communities by embracing a contrarian, at times combative, conservative politics. The September 11 attacks played a major role in shaping our political outlooks, as did attending liberal …

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What Leaf Peeping in New England Taught Me About the Meaning of Autumn

By | October 10, 2017

The migration north happens every fall. Just as the V-formations of Canada geese head south, flocks, groves, and busloads of “leaf peepers” head to northern New England from all over the globe. They come to watch the Green Mountains of Vermont and the White Mountains of New Hampshire “blush,” and soon discover that they are chasing a moving target.
Our wild palette of reds, purples, …

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How Societies Are Defined by the Segmentation of Time

By | October 6, 2017

Why does an hour last 60 minutes? Why does a minute last 60 seconds? What are “minutes” and “seconds,” really? A minute is just the duration you arrive at if you divide an hour into 60 equal segments. Seconds are merely what you get if you divide hours by 60 a second time.
We use these units because some of the first people to make …