July 24 – Pioneer Day in Utah

Posted on July 24, 2017

If you go to Salt Lake City, Utah, today, you might see something like this:

You see, today is Pioneer Day, a statewide holiday that commemorates the first group of Mormon pioneers who came to and settled the Salt Lake region. 

Mormon is the word used for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After the death of Mormonism-founder Joseph Smith, in 1844, a group of Mormons followed their church president, Brigham Young, all the way from the Mississippi River to Utah Territory.

Even though this date commemorates the day in 1847 when Young and the other pioneers arrived in Salt Lake Valley, the holiday also honors all pioneers, of every faith or no faith, who "settled" the West. 

And by "the West," I mean the western portion of the 48 contiguous United States (Alaska and Hawaii are waaayyy farther west than what we call "the West").

And by "settle," I mean "white folks coming and grabbing land that indigenous / native folks had been using but didn't OWN in a legalistic, document-oriented way." The Salt Lake Valley had been the home for groups of Shoshone, Ute, and Paiute. At the time when Young and his followers founded Salt Lake City, the land was Shoshone land - but they only used it seasonally. There were no permanent buildings there...until the Mormons began to build.

Even if a particular group of settlers were not the first to see a patch of land, travel a particular route, or use a particular valley, they were still going into the relatively unknown - to them, at least - and they still faced a lot of dangers. So they had to be courageous, resourceful, and (to be perfectly honest) lucky to survive. So, yes, let's celebrate pioneers!!

Salt Lake City has a lot of cool statues. This one memorializes the pioneers:

Many of the 70,000 Mormon pioneers couldn't afford a wagon and a team of oxen to pull the wagon...so they went West with only the possessions they could fit into a handcart they themselves pulled:

Here's an amazing fact: Mormon pioneers planted crops alongside the 1,300-mile-long trail so that later travelers could have a supply of food!

In addition to a parade, Pioneer Day festivities include a rodeo and concerts:

July 23 – Children's Day in Indonesia

Posted on July 23, 2016

Children's Day is not widely celebrated in Indonesia, but those who do celebrate the special day organize cultural and educational events. We're talking races and poetry readings, sports and games, and possibly carnivals in which kids wear traditional costumes. 

Children's Day is always celebrated on July 23 - it's what's known as a "fixed-date holiday" - except when it isn't. If the day would fall within the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, then it is postponed. (Almost 90% of Indonesians are Muslim.) However, this year Ramadan was from late May to late June - so let the Children's Day festivities begin!

Made up of more than 17,000 islands (!), it is probably not surprising that there is a huge number of different ethnic groups, each with their own kind of traditional dress, art and music, dance and rituals, myths and even language. Like, more than 300 different groups, and more than 700 languages!

The influences on the variety of cultures include Indian, Arabic, Chinese, and European (Indonesia was colonized primarily by the Dutch - for about 350 years! - but various islands were controlled by Portugal, France, and Great Britain for chunks of time as well). 

It's no wonder that the Indonesian motto is "Unity in Diversity." In Indonesian, it is "Bhinneka Tunggal Ika," which translates literally to "many, yet one." This is a lot like the U.S. Latin motto, "E pluribus unum," which translates to "out of many, one."

I found it interesting to discover that Dutch is not one of the official languages of Indonesia (Indonesian is the only official language), and Dutch isn't even on the list of commonly spoken languages. (English is!) After 350 of Dutch colonization?? Surprising...and not at all common.

I looked into it, and I discovered that, when the Dutch arrived, the various peoples living on the Indonesian islands had a lingua franca - a common language with which they could talk to one another - as well as their many and varied local languages. That common language was Malay, which is an official language of Singapore, Malaysia, and Brunei, and which forms the basis of the Indonesian language.

The Dutch traders and governors didn't see any benefit to teaching all the varied peoples Dutch, so instead the Dutch officers and merchants learned Malay. 

Of course, the Dutch rulers did speak Dutch among themselves, but apparently they tried to limit the amount of Dutch that was in use publicly, so it remained a sort of prestige language.

During World War II, Japanese forces occupied Indonesia, and they outlawed the use of the Dutch language. After WWII, Indonesia became independent, but they kept in place the rules against the use of Dutch as a way of stoking nationalist pride.

Take a peek at some of the massive amounts of diversity in Indonesia:

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July 22 – Science - Ever Creeping and Leaping Forward

Posted on July 22, 2017

On this date in 1888, two baby boys were born far away from one another. Selman Waksman was born in the Russian Empire - a region that is now in Ukraine. Kirk Bryan was born in New Mexico.

They both ended up living on the East Coast of the United States, working in two different universities, for much of their adult lives. Waksman worked mostly at Rutgers University, and Bryan worked mostly at Harvard. 

And although neither Waksman nor Bryan made the kind of discoveries that made them household names, they both contributed to our understanding of life, the universe, and everything - and, like other scientists, they helped us creep and leap forward.


Scientists studying geomorphology try to understand why landscapes look the way they do. 

The word comes from geo- (Earth) and morpho- (form), and geomorphologists study the physical and biological processes that create landforms such as mountains, canyons, deltas, valleys, and so forth.

Bryan's specialty was arid regions - in other words, deserts. His most important contribution might have been in influencing and motivating students; of the four geologists who have received the National Medal of Science, three were students of Bryan!

Check out this short video about a very simple introduction to geomorphology.


Today's other famous birthday ended up going into biochemistry, and Waksman specialized in the study of organisms that live in soil.

He invented the word antibiotics, and he discovered more than 20 antibiotics, and he created procedures that others have used to develop others, as well.

He even created the first effective treatment for tuberculosis. Waksman won a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Here is a short video that is pretty darned motivating - I wanna study biochemistry!!!

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