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This John Oliver Video on Infrastructure is Worth Your Time

On his show Last Week Tonight, John Oliver often takes on important issues—net neutrality, sugar content, climate change. But last night, he touched on a topic that I'm hugely passionate about: America's infrastructure.

Before I came to mental_floss, I was an editor at Popular Mechanics, where I contributed to a year-long investigation of U.S. infrastructure, watching workers lay rebar in the second span of the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge over the Potomac, walking along the crumbling locks and dams on the busiest part of the Ohio River in Illinois, and checking out the massive machinery being used to build its replacement in Kentucky (construction began in 1988 and still continues today). I have a lot of photos of myself wearing hard hats.

What PopMech found then—and what's still the case today, as Oliver points out—is that America's infrastructure is in bad shape. Really bad shape. Every year, the American Society of Civil Engineers releases an infrastructure report card. In 2013, the most recent year available, the average grade was D+. Solid waste earned the highest grade, a B-; bridges earned a middling C+; and inland waterways are at a D-.

Aside from the horrifying possibility of a bridge collapse, how might the failure of infrastructure affect you? Let's make an example of inland waterways. Rivers and canals are the unsung heroes of freight transportation: One barge carries enough cargo to fill 15 train cars or 58 tractor trailers. If a lock and dam goes down, all those trucks have to hit the road, causing congestion and pollution.

The problem, according to Oliver, is that "when our infrastructure isn't being destroyed by robots and/or saved by Bruce Willis, we tend to find it a bit boring." Sure, infrastructure isn't necessarily sexy, but, as the host points out, it is important—and pretty interesting. (Just look at all of these awesome bridges!) When I did my reporting, I talked to scientists who are doing all kinds of cool infrastructure-related things, like developing self-healing concrete and polymers for bridges and roads that could repair itself in the event of a crack, self-sensing skins that would alert authorities when cracks occur, and carbon-fiber reinforced polymer jackets that could be retrofitted to concrete columns to keep them from failing.

"Every summer, people flock to see our infrastructure threatened by terrorists or aliens," Oliver says. "But we should care just as much when it's under threats from the inevitable passage of time. The problem is, no one has made a blockbuster movie about the importance of routine maintenance and repair." You can probably guess what happens next. (It involves Edward Norton, Steve Buscemi, and plenty of puns.) Hopefully, Oliver's take on the subject, along with his faux trailer, will help draw attention to this huge problem.

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© 2017 USPS
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Pop Culture
Speedy Delivery: Mister Rogers Will Get His Own Stamp in 2018
© 2017 USPS
© 2017 USPS

USPS 2018 Mister Rogers stamp
© 2017 USPS

After weeks of mailing out this year’s holiday cards, postage might be the last thing you want to think about. But the U.S. Postal Service has just given us a sneak peek at the many iconic people, places, and things that will be commemorated with their own stamps in 2018, and one in particular has us excited to send out a few birthday cards: Mister Rogers.

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Fred Rogers’s groundbreaking PBS series that the USPS says “inspired and educated young viewers with warmth, sensitivity, and honesty,” the mail service shared a mockup of what the final stamp may look like. On it, Rogers—decked out in one of his trademark colorful cardigans (all of which were hand-knitted by his mom, by the way)—smiles for the camera alongside King Friday XIII, ruler of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.

Though no official release date for Fred’s forever stamp has been given, Mister Rogers is just one of many legendary figures whose visages will grace a piece of postage in 2018. Singer/activist Lena Horne will be the 41st figure to appear as part of the USPS’s Black Heritage series, while former Beatle John Lennon will be the face of the newest Music Icons collection. Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, will also be honored.

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Can You Spot the Christmas Pudding?

Whether it’s a sheep hanging out with Santa Claus or a panda bear hiding among some snowmen, regular Mental Floss readers know that hidden picture brainteasers are one of our favorite things. And the optical experts at Lenstore.co.uk have released a delicious one, just in time for Christmas. Somewhere in the midst of all these holiday-themed goodies above, there’s a holiday pudding just waiting to be discovered. Can you spot it? Your time starts … now.

If you give up, or are the kind of person who reads the last page of a book before the first one and just wants to know the answer, scroll down to see where it’s hiding.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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