Make Me Smart
December 20, 2019

The News Fix

Brace yourself: We’ve got some bad news to break up all the holiday cheer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this week that the 2019-2020 flu season started early, driven this time around by a more rare strain of the virus. But that’s not all that can get you sick this time of year. 

Food poisoning is common around the holidays, as home cooks take on big meals and baking projects. If you’re in charge of the cooking, USDA has tips on how to “Spread Holiday Cheer, Not Foodborne Illnesses,” and the agency’s food safety specialists are available to answer questions at (yeah, that's right). 

And if you were planning to welcome a furry friend into the family this holiday season, well, we have more sad news. The CDC reported this week that a recent outbreak of a drug-resistant infection known as Campylobacter has been traced to contact with puppies at pet stores. Worst news ever.

It’s no wonder employers say productivity often declines at the end of the year. But there are some simple solutions: Wash your hands, cook stuff well and take your pups to the vet. 

A 10-hour yule log video on YouTube.

Smart In a Shot

Yule log broadcasts (and yule log videos and online streams) have been a holiday tradition for more than 50 years running. On loop.

The first televised crackling fire was broadcast on New York station WPIX, which ran versions of the program during the holiday season from 1966 through 1989. VHS soon took up the mantle with yule log tapes, followed by DVDs. In 2011, Netflix stoked the market with two new options featuring background music to accompany the yuletide scene.

Yule log videos have branched out from there, with one featuring comedian Nick Offerman drinking Scotch by the hearth; another shows a succulent prime rib roasting over a grill. And for all the “Star Wars” fans out there, there’s this somber five-hour loop of the fiery Fall of (an older) Skywalker. 

The Numbers

The U.S. House of Representatives faced a big vote this week … on how to spend tax dollars in 2020. Let’s look at this year’s budget legislation. 

$1.4 trillion

That’s how much total federal spending was approved in a package of bills the House passed Tuesday. The legislation was split into two parts: a $738 billion measure for military spending and national security and a $632 billion measure for nondefense programs.

$1.375 billion

That’s how much was allocated to building a barrier at the U.S.-Mexico border. The bill maintains border wall funding at 2019 levels and limits spending to the Rio Grande Valley region. 

$25 million

Congress allocated that much for federal research into gun violence prevention. Such spending was previously limited due to the Dickey Amendment, a 1996 budget rider that effectively banned funding research that would “advocate or promote gun control.” 


The legislation also  raised the minimum age to purchase tobacco products, e-cigarettes and vaping devices to 21 nationally. 

This week on the podcast

Packages of Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat sit on a shelf for sale in November in New York City.
ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images

Episode 144: We now have Impossible Burgers!

We go beyond heavy hitters like Beyond and Impossible to talk about the whole meat replacement industry. There will be bugs. (Listening time, 46:11)


None of us is as smart as all of us

Tell us what’s making you smarter at We'd love to include your recommendation in a future newsletter.

Bug bites

Inspired by this week’s podcast, listener Jonathan J. recommended the cookbook “Bugs for Beginners,” which contains accessible recipes that incorporate insects. Dishes include: Mealworm Crispy Crunchies, Kentucky Fried Crickets and Waxworm Ramen. 


The case for Space Force

Listener SunJun P. recommends watching this discussion among policy experts about the best way to prepare for the evolving threat to our security in outer space. “There are legitimate reasons as to why we should have an independent Space Force,” SunJun said, adding “to simply dismiss it does a disservice.” 


A very deep dive

Marketplace’s Peter Hernandez recommends this interactive feature on marine wildlife that shows how deep below the surface different life forms thrive. Hernandez said, “I want a fangtooth for Christmas!”
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This Make Me Smart newsletter is written by Erica Phillips.

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