September 19 – Clean Up the World Weekend

Posted on September 19, 2014

I remember a very important thing to me was seeing the Earth from another world—the moon—for the first time, at the same time that everyone else in the world saw that same sight for the first time. I think a lot of people realized with a pang just how beautiful and singular and fragile our one world really is. I think a lot of us realized how ridiculous it would be to ruin the only world we can comfortably live on.

And yet...

...We want to have air conditioners and cars, refrigerators and swimming pools. We want to make and buy computers and books, cell phones and surfboards. Many of us want to eat steaks or bacon, and we want to eat fruit and chocolate from all over the world.

And with all that wanting and making, buying and selling, having and having and more having, we end up polluting the air, soil, and water, and we end up cutting down too much of this and growing too much of that, paving too much here and allowing plants and animals to die out there.

This weekend is all about rolling up your sleeves and doing your part to help clean up humanity's messes. Let it be a jump-off place to doing ongoing environmental action—look for ways to save energy EVERY week and weekend, say, and consider making a small donation EVERY month to a wildlife fund.

  • Find a worthy environmental cause to donate to...maybe a local group? You can find out how charities stack up by investigating them on Charity Navigator

Also on this date:

St. Kitts and Nevis Independence Day 

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September 18 – Victory of UPRONA in Burundi

Posted on September 18, 2014

Today the world-famous Royal Drummers of Burundi will be playing traditional beats, and dancers will be performing the abatimbo and the abanyagasimbo, celebrating the anniversary of the 1961 victory of the UPRONA political party in U.N.-assisted elections for the National Assembly.

Violence between the Hutu and the Tutsi people—the same ethnic fighting that devastated Burundi's neighbor, Rwanda—had cropped up again and again in Burundi ever since the Tutsi's arrived in that African land in the 15th Century.

When European nations colonized Africa, Germany and later Belgium colonized Burundi and Rwanda, but they left in place the governmental structures and officers, which meant also leaving in place constant struggles between different groups, rivalry, court intrigue. After World War II, Ruanda-Urundi (now Burundi and Rwanda) became a United Nations trust territory but remained under Belgian administration. And when the elections were held in 1961, the party headed by Prince Louis Rwagasore, who was the eldest son of the current mwami, won in a big way—what is called a “sweeping victory”!

Unfortunately, less than a month after the Prince was voted in, he was assassinated!

Check out the Royal Drummers!

This drumming video features dancers as well. 

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September 17 – Happy Birthday, Charles the Simple, King of Western France

Posted on September 17, 2014

Charles the Simple
To me, “Charles the Simple” sounds like an insult. Indeed, it may have been an insult—although I wouldn't expect the name for a king to be an insult!

But get this:

Charles the Simple (born on this date in 879) was the youngest child of Louis the Stammerer, King of Aquitaine and later King of West Francia.

His grandfather's name was Charles the Bald.

Charles the Simple was too young to rule when his older brother died, so the nobles of West Francia asked his cousin, Charles the Fat, to become king.

Charles the Fat
The Simple? The Stammerer? The Bald? The Fat? ...It sounds like a comedy meant to make fun of kings calling themselves so-and-so “the Great,” but this is reality, not parody!

I also read that the King of Germany, Louis the Child, died and that the nobles of one region of Germany, under the leadership of Reginar Longneck, declared Charles the Simple to be their king, too.

A few other kings include Louis the Quarreler, Charles the Mad, Philip the Amorous, Pepin the Short, and (finally! Some compliments!) Louis the Debonaire and Charles the Affable.

Maybe these names sound less laughable in French?

The birth of last names

In the Middle Ages, there was enough travel from town-to-town, enough trade between peoples, and large enough gatherings of people in towns to necessitate more than just one name. You can imagine something like this:

Who is going to move into the room above the bar?


John? I know three Johns—which one do you mean? John the Smith, John the Cooper, or John the Red Head?

(Note that a smith is someone who creates objects out of metal, and a cooper is someone who makes barrels.)
Actually, I mean John, son of Peter.
Oh! Right! Forgot about him!

John Smith, I presume?
During this time when people were trying to differentiate between people with the same first name, they referred to people's occupations, father's names, where they lived, and sometimes even their appearance or disposition. 

John the Smith became John Smith, and John the Cooper became John Cooper. John the Red Head might have become John Redd or John Redford, and John-son-of-Peter became John Peterson. 

I can imagine that John from London became John London, and John-of-the-Hill became John Hill – and so on and on. Last names had been invented and to some extent evolved, mostly in the direction of streamlining and simplifying.

Also on this date:

Constitution Day 

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September 16 – Happy Birthday, Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

Posted on September 16, 2014

  • A member of a resistance movement!
  • An anti-war protestor!
  • Founder of a cancer research organization!
  • A Nobel Prize Laureate!
  • The guy who discovered Vitamin C!

Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, born on this date in 1893 in Hungary, became a physiologist. He worked on trying to understand the chemistry of cellular respiration—the process by which cells “burn” food to create ATP, which is the chemical that cells use for energy.

Along the way, as Szent-Gyorgyi studied organic acids, he determined the structure of L-ascorbic acid, which we commonly call Vitamin C.

Before World War II, Szent-Gyorgyi helped his Jewish friends to escape the country, and during the war he joined the Hungarian resistance movement that agitated against the Nazis who had invaded their country.

When he won a Nobel Prize for his work on cellular recreation and Vitamin C, Szent-Gyorgyi offered all of his prize money to Finland, which had recently been invaded by the Soviet Union.

His science allowed Szent-Gyorgyi to leave post-war communist Hungary; he went to the U.S., and eventually became an American citizen. While living in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, he started the Institute for Muscle Research, and later he started a non-profit organization called the National Foundation for Cancer Research.

In the late 1960s, Szent-Gyorgyi protested the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, and he urged other people to take a stand against the war as well.

I like that Szent-Gyorgyi was involved in politics as well as science. He seems like the kind of principled man we need more of...

Celebrate Szent-Gyorgyi! learning more about cellular respiration. Try this video

Also on this date:

Mexico's Independence Day (El Grito)

Glyndwr Day in Wales

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September 15 – Felt Hat Day

Posted on September 15, 2014

Many of us wear hats a lot less than most people in history did. Felt was a common material for men's hats worn in fall and winter, back in the day, and today is a typical “it's getting to be fall” sort of day for men to get their felt hats out of the closet, dust them off, and begin to wear them again.

Today we are urged to commemorate this once-crucial accessory by wearing a felt hat.

What is felt?

Have you ever seen a felt tree? Or maybe a felt bush?

The answer, of course, is “no.” Because felt isn't a material made from a particular plant, but instead is a textile that is made by matting and pressing together fibers. Felt can be thick or thin, soft or tough—but its edges do not unravel, which makes it an easy-to-use fabric.

Felt can be made of wool (which of course comes from the shearing of sheep) or from other animal fibers. Felt can also be made from synthetic (artificial) fibers such as acrylic. Plant fibers such as cotton cannot be made into felt.

You can make felt by washing animal fibers such as wool, mohair, alpaca is warm, soapy water. The fibers swell up, and the scales on the protein fibers push outwards. Then you agitate the fiber in the warm, soapy water, causing the scales to grab onto one another and tangle with each other. Now we say that the fiber has been felted.

This felting technique also explains why plant fibers don't felt, because the plant fibers are made of cellulose and don't have scales. No scales to grab onto one another means no felt.

Some of the nomadic people in Central Asia felt animal fibers in order to make their yurts, clothing, and tourist items such as decorated slippers.

Felt hats include men's styles, women's styles, cowboy hats, and costume hats.


Also on this date:

Author/ illustrator Tomie de Paola's birthday

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