Our hollowed-out shells make a surprise appearance
Sep 1, 2022
Episode 744

Our hollowed-out shells make a surprise appearance

And so does the dark place sting.

Hit the dark place sting, we’re discussing some news stories that got our shells feeling a little hollow. First, residents of Jackson, Mississippi, have no clean water. Though help may be finally on the way, we still have questions. Also, a new survey shows just how devastating the pandemic was for students in the classroom. But we’ve at least got a Make Me Smile, thanks to a listener email on the physics of dragons. Get ready to laugh cry.

Here’s everything we talked about today:

If you want to send us your delightful voice memos and emails, you can reach us at makemesmart@marketplace.org or leave a voice message at 508-U-B-SMART. 

Make Me Smart September 1, 2022 transcript


Note: Marketplace podcasts are meant to be heard, with emphasis, tone and audio elements a transcript can’t capture. Transcripts are generated using a combination of automated software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting it.


Kimberly Adams: Hello, I’m Kimberly Adams and welcome back to Make Me Smart where we make today make sense.


Kai Ryssdal: I’m Kai Ryssdal. Thanks for being here on a Thursday, I think it is? Yes, Thursday.


Kimberly Adams: Yes, yes. Although my time zones are all mixed up because I took the red eye last night. And so like, I don’t know what time it is anywhere. So yeah.


Kai Ryssdal: I used to take the red eye all the time, I can no longer do that, or I just don’t have to anymore. So I don’t. You know. When my kids were little, I took the red eye all the time. Now? Forget it.


Kimberly Adams: Wait, what is your kids being little have to do with it?


Kai Ryssdal: Well, when the kids were little, and I had to go to like New York, right, I could – here in LA, I could have dinner with them and get them to bed and blah, blah, blah and hang around a little while and then at 10 o’clock at night, go to the airport and take the red eye and do whatever I had to do in New York. And now they don’t care, right? Yeah. Wait, you were gone? You were gone for a couple of days? You know. And you’re like, alright, fine. I’m not killing myself on the red eye anymore. Yeah.


Kimberly Adams: Fair. Fair. All right. We’re gonna talk about the news, do some make me smiles at the end. Starting with our news fixes. Yours is super interesting. Wow.


Kai Ryssdal: It’s super interesting and truly, truly terrible. A study that’s out – you know, the article of choice for me today was New York Times, but it was pretty much everywhere. A study and some research out showing the decline in educational achievement by American students over the course of the pandemic. The performance of – I’ll just read from the Times – the performance of nine-year-olds in math and reading, right, that was the group that was tested, dropping to the levels from two decades ago. And that look is, first of all, bad enough. And I need to be clear here and I don’t want to get into the whole, mask no mask, schools open schools closed, this and that, right, the pandemic was terrible for everybody, it was worse for the kids. Here’s the real challenge, though. While top performers, that is to say in the 90th percentile, showed a modest drop three points in math, students in the bottom 10th percentile dropped by 12 points in math, four times the impact. The kids worst off in this economy and in this country did the worst. And that is going to take, says an expert from Harvard who’s in this piece, that is going to take years to come back from. And it’s just not great. It’s just really bad.


Kimberly Adams: I’m looking, in math, black students lost 13 points, compared with five points among white students, widening the gap between the two groups.


Kai Ryssdal: Yep. Yep. And I mean – no, go ahead.


Kimberly Adams: I wish I had this study in front of me when I was talking to LeVar Burton, because this must be a gut punch to him, after working on children’s literacy for so long to see it go back to like, reading Rainbow Times.


Kai Ryssdal: Yep. Absolutely. Absolutely. Anyway, so there we go. That’s mine.


Kimberly Adams: Wow. We’re about to be real dark today. Well, what we used to call Thursdays?


Kai Ryssdal: Hollowed-out shell on the Thursday.


Kimberly Adams: Hollowed-out shell with Thursdays. We’re bringing it back today, because I’ve got two pretty grim ones myself. The first one is just this terrible situation in Mississippi where people do not have water. There has been some effort and there’s some really great reporting in the Mississippi Clarion-Ledger following what’s been going on there. And they still cannot drink the water in Jackson, Mississippi. But there has been, there was a brief increase in water pressure, it looks like in the system. And then it kind of went back. President Biden has declared a state of emergency and supposedly help is headed their way. But what really gets me about this story is, as I was watching sort of the traffic online about it, I follow this account Scalawag, which is the Southern Reporting Initiative, and they tweeted out their story that they did on the Jackson, Mississippi water crisis from March 9, 2021.


Kai Ryssdal: Oh man. Wow.


Kimberly Adams: This is how long and longer this situation has been going on, and the recent floods kind of exacerbated the situation. But these folks have been suffering for more than a year, well over a year. And it’s just a reminder of what rises to the surface in our national narrative. And the communities that get left behind, the communities that are most vulnerable to climate change – Esquire, in the links on the show page, has a very In a snarky piece about this with the headline, who would like to explain to the class why Jackson, Mississippi has no water? Don’t everybody raise your hand at once. And of course, it goes back to the history of discrimination and underinvestment in a predominantly black community, white flight eroding the tax base, and just all of these things playing together at once. There’s a ton of money in the infrastructure law that’s supposed to go to water plants and water treatment facilities. It takes a while for that money to move through the pipelines. I’ve seen a lot of criticism online of Mississippi for not using that money to help out. Jackson, I don’t doubt things could have probably moved more quickly in this emergency situation, but you know, realistically, it takes a while for that money to move to the pipeline. But I’ll be curious, now that there are so many more resources and so much more attention on it, what is going to be done now?


Kai Ryssdal: Yeah, that’s a great question. The answer, of course, will be distressingly little. And it will take distressingly long. I mean, look, one benefits not at all by being rose-colored glasses about any of this stuff, you know?


Kimberly Adams:  Okay.


Kai Ryssdal: Well, look.


Kimberly Adams: No, I brought the story. It’s my own fault, I guess, the fact –


Kai Ryssdal: No, no, no, there’s no fault here. It’s just, it’s, it’s institutional paralysis and bureaucratic momentum. Right?


Kimberly Adams: Yeah, yeah, I guess the thing that gives me optimism is that there, there is a tiny bit of movement. The fact that there is an infrastructure law, the fact that there was the Inflation Reduction Act passed, and there is money that’s starting to be available to fix some of these systemic issues throughout the country. Now, granted, that’s when it’s really important for people to elect local leaders who are going to use those resources wisely. But we are in a different place, in terms of there actually being some attention towards actually fixing some of these problems, I feel. So that’s a tiny touch of optimism. Of course I’m deeply cynical of, you know, who’s going to get the most access to these resources. And a lot of it’s going to go to consultants, a lot of it’s going to go to companies that are going to skim off the top. Sure. But at what point are we gonna let the perfect be the enemy of some good being done?


Kai Ryssdal: That’s fair.


Kimberly Adams: Okay. Um, my other story, also dark and grim. The AP investigations team, they just keep churning it out. Shout out to Ron Nixon and that whole team over there, they have a new story, a new investigation out that they did in partnership with the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting. And it’s about this technology that dozens of law enforcement agencies have been using across the country, called “Fog reveal”, sometimes without a search warrant, to track people’s movements over the course of months. And this software uses commercially available data and picks up things according to the Associated Press data that, you know, is originates from common apps such as Starbucks and Waze to figure out how people are moving around. And law enforcement has been using it to find people and to solve crimes, which, in some cases, it helped find a hit and run driver and in another case, it helped find a woman who unfortunately had already been murdered by the time they found the guy, but it helped connect them to a suspect. And so there’s, you know, a law enforcement reason to use it. However, civil liberties, not very well protected using this stuff. And of course, now that everybody’s so worried – not everybody, some people – are very concerned about law enforcement using these sorts of tech tools to track movements around abortion clinics or abortion providers. There’s a lot more attention to just how much of these – how much these commercially available surveillance tools are being used by law enforcement. Amazing investigation. They’ve got a nice little video. Yeah, there’s a nice little like four-and-a-half-minute video that summarizes it if you can’t get to the whole thing.


Kai Ryssdal: Yeah. Great.


Kimberly Adams: Do we still have the dark place thing?


Kai Ryssdal: We do, I don’t know if Charlton’s got it queued up, but maybe – there we go.


Kimberly Adams: There it is. Okay.


Kai Ryssdal: All right, now we can hit the other one man. All right, I’m just gonna sit here, we should just dump mine and do yours, because yours is just amazeballs. Just go ahead.


Kimberly Adams: Because I dumped my earlier one so that I could do this and like, I will give my my respect to Dolly Parton and her little doggy line of clothing. But anyway, we got this amazing letter related to our conversation about Dragon’s eggs. What was it, like, last week, I guess? I can’t remember the time. Anyway, about the Game of Thrones House of Dragons show, we’re talking about – spoiler alert, the scene in which one of the Dragons eggs is thrown, and a story in Vox that analyzed how damaging it would be to throw a dragon’s egg, and it all comes down to whether or not dragons are closer to lizards or chickens, and it was very funny. Anyway, can I just read this letter in the entirety?


Kai Ryssdal: You should read the whole thing. Yeah, for sure.


Kimberly Adams: Okay, here we go. This comes from Robert Waltz, and thank you so much for blessing us with this. Dear Make Me Smart folks, I should preface this by saying that I do not watch television. So I have not seen Game of Thrones, nor do I use social media. So I have not heard about throwing a dragon’s egg. What do I do instead? I learn as much as I can about everything I possibly can. Anyway, that said, here’s the part that should be considered for your program. You observed that when throwing a dragon’s egg, the character involved did not impart enough force to produce the acceleration observed. Okay, you didn’t say that. But I turned it into physics. Pause here, that was something that Kai said that it looked like it didn’t have enough heft when the guy was throwing the egg. Yeah. Okay, back to Rob. The obvious observation here is that dragons cannot fly, or rather, based on Newtonian physics, they can’t lift their bulk into the air. Their mass is simply too great to be lifted by their silly little under-muscled wings. And yet they are observed to fly, I assume. Since they cannot fly but do fly, it must mean that they have some way of generating lifts that the rest of us don’t use. So if hatched dragons weigh less than their observed volume implies, why should this not apply to unhatched dragons? If dragons can, let us say, manipulate dark energy to lift themselves, why can’t their eggs? Clearly, whatever lifts dragons applies to their eggs. Also, seriously, since when did the laws of physics apply in Hollywood?


Kai Ryssdal: Great letter, great letter. Engaged listeners. Come on, gotta love it.


Kimberly Adams: Thank you so much for that Robert. That was amazing. It legitimately brought a smile to my face.


Kai Ryssdal: Good stuff. Amazing, amazing stuff. We’re gonna go out on that one. We are gonna go out on that one on our Thursday. Back tomorrow for economics on tap. Join us for an end of week drink if you’d like, on our YouTube live stream starting at 6:30 Eastern, that is 3:30 Pacific out here. More news, drinks, and a round of half full half empty as well.


Kimberly Adams: Yes, and please keep sending us your thoughts or questions or analyses of the physics related to dragons, we are here for it. Our email is makemesmart@marketplace.org. Or you can leave us a message at 508-U-B-SMART.


Kai Ryssdal: Make Me Smart is produced by Marissa Cabrera. Olivia Zhao is our intern.


Kimberly Adams: Today’s episode was engineered by Charlton Thorp, and Bridget Bodnar is the Senior Producer. Donna Tam is the Director of On Demand. I got to have lunch with Don earlier this week.


Kai Ryssdal: Oh yeah?


Kimberly Adams: She took me to a spot that her mom likes, which made me feel very special.

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