Meteors Crashing to Earth, Bill Gross Retires, and More—This Week in the News


In a fast-moving, ever-shifting world, news is continuously breaking. The Great Courses is here to help you understand the full story behind the soundbites. Here are a handful of stories for the week of February 4, 2019, and their accompanying lectures on The Great Courses Plus

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When “Useless” Inventions Pay Off
Geng Shuai may or may not be the next Edison, but there is no denying his creativity is paying off. With a slew of “useless” inventions that he showcases online—including a 66-cm long comb made out of iron, a meat cleaver that doubles as a cell phone case, and an alarm that goes off if your fly is open—he’s acquired a cult following of 2.5 million viewers and is making a steady income from donations, ads, and sales. We’re surrounded by great inventions that have transformed our daily lives. Consider just how pervasive inventions truly are. 

King of Bonds, Retires
Known as a “Bond King,” Bill Gross is retiring from a historical four-decade career during which he transformed bond investing. He became a bond manager almost by accident, after teaching himself how to count cards in blackjack and paying for his MBA tuition at UCLA through gambling in Las Vegas. Probe the strategies of two contemporary bond kings—Bill Gross and Jeff Gundlach—and consider the best way to use bonds in your own portfolio.

Love Is Love Is Love … But What Is Love?
The celebration of love and affection is acknowledged on February 14 with the celebration of Valentine’s Day. Is love a function of your heart? Your hormones? Your brain? Hear what the neuroscientists have to say about why people fall in love, and what happens inside the brain when you fall in love.

Meteors in Cuba
Researchers from the Institute of Geophysics and Astronomy confirmed a meteor broke apart over western Cuba, hurling various-sized pieces into many towns. Although there were reports of loud explosions as they landed, there are no injuries noted. Comets and asteroids have struck Earth throughout its history. Follow how astronomers now search for asteroids that could be a potential threat to Earth.

Cancer Rates Increasing in Millennials
A recent study funded by the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute has shown that the risk for millennials getting obesity-related cancers is significantly higher than the risk of baby boomers when they were the same age as the millennials. The types of cancers include pancreatic, colorectal, endometrial, and gallbladder. Although cancer is currently the second-leading cause of death in the United States, explore the wealth of dietary strategies and lifestyle modifications that can help people reduce their risk of getting such a fearful diagnosis. 

“Year of the Pig” Is Anything but Boar-ing
According to the Chinese lunar new year, we are now celebrating the twelfth of all zodiac animals: 2019 is the Year of the Pig (also noted in some traditions as the Year of the Boar), specifically the Earth Pig. In the Chinese culture, pigs are a symbol of wealth and good fortune. According to Chinese tradition, the year of your zodiac sign is the most unlucky year for you. So, if you were born in the Year of the Pig, 2019 may be more of a hurdle for you. Many people in this year will wear something red every day (a traditionally lucky color) to offset any bad fortune. Survey these and other elements of Chinese cosmology that have shaped Chinese thought for millennia.

Antidepressants and Opioid Interference
Researchers recently published findings that suggest taking antidepressants can reduce the effectiveness of common pain-reducing opioids. When a patient is taking a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), such as Prozac or Zoloft, it may inhibit the activity of an enzyme in the liver that metabolizes prodrug opioids, such as Vicodin, rendering opioids less effective, potentially resulting in people taking greater amounts of opioids. Dig into the science of how opioids affect our brains and where addictions stem from.

DNA Discovery on Earth Honored on Mars
The next European Mars rover, due to touch down in March 2021, will be searching for traces of habitability or the building blocks for life within the top 6.5 feet of the planet’s surface and is fittingly being named for Rosalind Franklin, a DNA researcher whose work helped us put together some of the building blocks of life. Delve into the experiments by Rosalind Franklin, which led to the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA.

Lincoln’s Birthday Bummer
February 12 is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. This date was observed as a paid holiday in 24 U.S. states in 1940. But, after the Uniform Monday Holiday Act took effect in 1971, states moved toward considering the federal holiday of George Washington’s February 18th birthday as a joint federal holiday called Presidents’ Day. Now, there are just a handful of states that honor Lincoln directly. Examine some of the impactful changes Lincoln began to put into place during his presidency, including the recognition of the need for the emancipation of slaves and the need for voting rights for freed slaves.

We will be diligently monitoring current events and sharing updates on a regular basis, linking the latest headlines to our courses, so you can get the context, history, background, deeper meaning, and—especially—the facts. Our goal is to help our lifelong learners apply the knowledge they gain from our courses to the real world and become better-informed citizen about the present-day issues that concern us all.