It’s been a quiet week in Now I Know land, and I really don’t have much insight to share — so let’s hop right into the Week in Review and the longreads!
The Now I Know Week in Review
Monday: Maybe Today Should Still Be the Weekend: The history behind — and maybe a case in favor of? — three-day weekends. Reader Mark S. shares a similar story: “Monday is also an official day off for motorcycle shop employees. Most motorcycle shops are closed on Mondays because many of their employees like to race motocross on Sundays, and are too tired from all the pounding they take during the race to make it to work on Monday.”
Tuesday: The World Record That Will Definitely Stick: Reader DGR suggested “Why Breaking the Javelin Record is Pointless” as a better title for this one, and to be honest, I think it’s a close call. Oh, and reader Steve S. (jokingly, I hope!) admonished me for forgetting the great javelin feat of Lamar Latrell, who also used a non-standard javelin design.
Wednesday: The Problem With Five-Cent Hot Dogs: Cheap meat whose quality you can’t easily judge… what could go wrong?
Thursday: Hungry Hungry Hero Dog?: Free meat that you get for being a hero… what could go wrong?
And some other things you should check out:
Some long reads for the weekend.
1) “How three sisters (and their mom) tried to swindle the CRA out of millions” (Macleans, 17 minutes, June 2022). The subhead: “The Saker women were the model of rural ingenuity, running a successful restaurant and gourmet food businesses on Cape Breton Island. What they were mostly cooking? The books.” (CRA, by the way, is the Canada Revenue Agency — it’s the equivalent of the U.S.’s IRS.)
2) “False Flag” (Slate, 21 minutes, June 2022). If you’re not familiar with the basic story of the 50-star U.S. flag, a high schooler named Robert Heft created a design for his history class, got a bad grade on the assignment, and his teacher told him he’d improve the grade if it became the official U.S. flag somehow. Heft’s flag, or something like it, became the official flag and the teacher (probably) changed his grade. But did Robert Heft really design the flag? The author here makes a compelling case that he didn’t. Here’s a big pull quote.
Heft is credited as the [50-star U.S.] flag’s designer in a prominent position on Wikipedia, in numerous books, and on the website of the Smithsonian Institution. Versions of the story can be found on such media outlets as CNN, Fox News, Time, NPR, the Washington Post, Snopes.com, and Slate. A 2006 episode of Jeopardy! included the clue, “In the late ’50s junior high student Bob Heft designed a new arrangement of these, now known to every American.” When none of the contestants got it, host Alex Trebek revealed the correct response: “Stars on the U.S. flag.” He added, “See, we learn.”
[ . . . ]
After looking deeper, I was unable to avoid the obvious conclusion. Heft’s story—which many reputable sources cite as a historical fact—is false. While he did make a 50-star flag for his history class, and Pratt may even have agreed to change the grade if it were accepted by the government, everything else in the usual account is a lie that Heft embellished for nearly half a century. If the origin story of the nation’s most recognizable symbol is untrue, it illustrates how misinformation about the American past can be deliberately invented and uncritically perpetuated. The real question is how and why Heft did it—and why so many people wanted to believe that it was the truth.
3) “Imaginary numbers are real” (Aeon, 15 minutes, Summer 2022). It’s a bit math-heavy (of course) but that shouldn’t stop you from reading this really interesting essay. The subhead: “These odd values were long dismissed as bookkeeping. Now physicists are proving that they describe the hidden shape of nature.”
Have a great weekend!