December 20 – Happy Birthday, Branch Rickey

Posted on December 20, 2014

A guy with a last name for a first name and a first name for a last name is famous not for the out-in-front starring stuff the public sees but rather the in-the-back stuff the public doesn't see.

Confused? I'll explain.

Branch Rickey when young
Ricky” is a pretty common nickname for a fellow named “Richard,” but “Rickey” is our birthday boy's last name (also called surname). His full name is Wesley Branch Rickey, but he didn't go by “Wesley,” which is another fairly common first name. Instead, he went by his middle name (which was probably a family surname): Branch.

And “Branch” just sounds like a part of a tree, doesn't it?


Rickey, born on this date in 1881, played Major League Baseball, which is something that has made many a fellow famous. But Rickey's fame didn't come from his stint as a player; instead, he made history—and found a place in the prestigious Baseball Hall of Fame—as a baseball executive.

Here's a short list of his biggest accomplishments:
  • Rickey broke the “color barrier” in Major League Baseball by recruiting and signing Jackie Robinson to play with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Before this act, there was an unwritten rule that black people couldn't play MLB, but instead had to stick to the “Negro Leagues.”
  • Rickey also drafted the first Afro-Hispanic superstar, Roberto Clemente.
  • He created the minor league farm system.
  • He encouraged MLB to add more teams.
  • He was an early adopter of the batting helmet, headgear designed to protect batters.

Celebrate Rickey's by watching the stirring movie “42,” which is mostly about Jackie Robinson—but which features Harrison Ford playing the role of Branch Rickey.




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December 19 – Underdog Day

Posted on December 19, 2014


Today is the day to celebrate the underdog.

Underdog” means the team or athlete or contestant who is expected to lose a sport or game or competition. 

We also use the term in battle and political election situations. 

Actually, nowadays we sometimes also use the term to talk about rags-to-riches “Cinderella stories" of people who hit it big against great odds.


J. K. Rowling's rise to stardom from
obscurity is a stretch for the term
"underdog" - but the term is
sometimes used for this sort of
"Cinderella-story."

The first recorded use of the term underdog, from the late 1800s, referred to a dog who was defeated in a dogfight. The dog who won, of course, was the “top dog” – and this term, too, has been generalized to the winning (human) teams, athletes and contestants.

Needless to say, I hate the idea of pitting dogs against each other, having them fight for sport and for gambling. However, the word underdog no long has such unsavory connotations. 

And everyone loves the story of an underdog who wins. It's David and Goliath, in chess Bobby Fischer vs. Boris Spassky, and ordinary worker Erin Brockovich against a big chemical company. 

We even love stories about underdogs who lose but do so with unexpected vigor, guts, or style. In the first Rocky movie, Rocky doesn't win the boxing match, but he shocks everyone by "going the distance" and wins the audience's hearts as well as "the girl."

Two sports stories about underdogs are
Gabby Douglas's surprising Olympic
Gold Medal...

...and the 1980 "Miracle on Ice," when
the U.S. hockey team beat Russia.

Some people writing about this holiday on, you know, on ye olde Internet, apparently think it's “Sidekick Day,” a day to celebrate the guy or gal NEXT to the star, the hero, the headliner. But my two cents is that underdog has another meaning. If you want a "Sidekick Day," choose another day and start one!


Also on this date:


Knocking Nights in Germany 
















It's still time for Las Posadas!











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December 18 – Arabic Language Day

Posted on December 18, 2014

Written Arabic is just lovely!

On this date in 1973, the Arabic language was adopted as one of the official working languages of the United Nations.


There are six “official working” languages adopted by the United Nations. At the bottom of this article, I will reveal the other five. Try to guess what they are ahead of time!

Arabic is one of the most commonly spoken languages in the world. There are around 290 million native Arabic speakers, which puts Arabic as #6, behind Mandarin, Spanish, English, Hindi, and Bengali. If you include all the people who speak it as their second language, there are about 420 million Arabic speakers. Also, there are more than a billion Muslims for whom Arabic is the language of their holy book, the Koran (Quran).

A man named Sibawayh is considered one of the builders of the Arab culture; he wrote a grammar book in which he reported and organized the grammatical rules of the language. People celebrating Arabic Language Day could learn more about Sibawayh, or they could study up on the language he codified.





Since Arab scholars were so important to Europeans, back in the 8th through 13th Centuries, English has a lot of words that come from the Arabic. Also, English often adopts words for clothing items, foods, and animals from the languages of the places where those items are used or seen. 
Some of the words used in English that originated in Arabic include:
  • admiral
  • adobe
  • Arabic calligraphy is ESPEICALLY
    lovely. Check out the picture made
    from calligraphy:
    algebra
  • alchemy and chemistry
  • alcohol
  • alfalfa

(Many, many words that start with the letters “A-L” come from Arabic, because al means “the” in Arabic).
  • apricot
  • artichoke
  • candy
  • check
  • decipher and cipher
  • elixir
  • gauze
  • ghoul
  • giraffe
  • harem
  • hummus
  • jar
  • jasmine
  • lacquer
  • lemon
  • lime
  • lute
  • macrame
  • magazine
  • monsoon
  • muslin
  • nadir
  • orange
  • ream
  • rook (in chess)
  • safflower
  • safari
  • sofa
  • sugar
  • sultan
  • syrup
  • talc
  • tangerine
  • tuna
  • typhoon
  • zenith
  • zero
ANSWER TO THE QUESTION ABOVE:
The six official working languages of the United Nations are English, Spanish, Mandarin (Chinese), Russian, French...and of course Arabic.


Also on this date:


National Day in Qatar  



















Particle Party! 









Anniversary of the first panda in the U.S.










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December 17 – Bhutan's National Day

Posted on December 17, 2014

Wishing a happy national day to the people of Bhutan—the happiest people in Asia.

Wh-h-h-a-a-t-t-t?

The “happiest people in Asia”??? Says who?


Says the results of a 2006 survey published by Business Week.

I am pretty sure Bhutan SHOULD have some pretty happy people. How many nations do you know that have a Gross National Happiness Commission in charge of reviewing policy decisions to increase the well-being of its people? No other nation does this—other than today's celebrating country, the Kingdom of Bhutan.

What are they celebrating?

On this date in 1907, Ugyen Wangchuck was elected the hereditary king of Bhutan.

I know that electing a king seems weird—and, trust me, not everyone in Bhutan got to vote! But back when Bhutan wasn't so happy, in the 1700s and 1800s, the people were embroiled in a war with British India and later a civil war between two rival valleys in Bhutan. Finally, in the late 1800s, a powerful governor defeated his political enemies and united the country. You guessed it: it was Ugyen Wangchuck who won control of the country. And it was he who, a few years later, was unanimously chosen to be the king. The people who chose him were monks, government officials, and the heads of important families.

Since this “election” was for a king, there weren't yearly elections—because Ugyen passed down the crown to one of his sons, and so on and on.
On 1999, the Bhutanese government lifted a ban on television and the Internet. It was one of the last countries in the world to introduce television. The king told his people that television was an important step to modernizing the nation and could contribute to the nation's Gross National Happiness. But he also warned that the “misuse” of television could dismantle some of the things that make Bhutan a pretty happy place.

Since 2007, the country became a constitutional monarchy (like the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and many other countries in the world), and so now there are general elections for lawmakers.

Learn about Bhutan

Bhutan is a small, landlocked nation squished between China and India. It is near Nepal and Bangladesh, but certain Indian states lie between these nations.







Bhutan's national animal is the takin, otherwise known as a gnu goat.








Buddhism is the most common religion—and is also the state religion. Like other religions, Buddhism has split several times and has evolved in belief and practice.




The particular flavor of Buddhism that is Bhutan's state religion is Vajrayana Buddhism.








Buddhist temples and monasteries seem to be everywhere in Bhutan:
By rivers...

Clinging to cliffs...

Even at the top of the world!


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