February 27 – Read Me Day

Posted on February 27, 2015

To celebrate today, we only have to do what many of us do a lot, anyway:

Wear a T-shirt, cap, pin, or other item with a message on it!

This holiday was created by a Tennessee teacher in 1986. 

Every year, visiting readers are invited to come to school to read portions of their favorite books, and these visitors, the students, the teachers, and the staff all wear messages of some sort.


Here are some possible messages to wear:

For the Harry Potter fan.

This dress has the entire first chapter of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone! (AKA Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone)

Messages on caps have to be short!

Also on this date:

Author John Steinbeck's birthday

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February 26 – Liberation Day in Kuwait

Posted on February 26, 2015

This is Day 2 of celebrations in Kuwait. Yesterday was Kuwait's National Day, and today is the anniversary of the nation's 1991 liberation from Iraq.

Apparently, Kuwaitis dress in the national colors, and streets are decorated with flags and banners in the national colors, and people dance around and spay each other with foam colored with the national colors...

So, yeah, a whole lot of white, green, and red!

In addition to flags and foam, there are fireworks!

Kuwait is located at the tip of the Persian Gulf. Iraq lies to the north, and Saudi Arabia lies to the west. Iraq is almost landlocked (without direct access to an ocean or a sea that has access to an ocean) because of Kuwait; Iraq's coastline on the Persian Gulf is only about 18 miles (30 km) long.

Kuwait has a king and a constitution and an elected parliament. It ranks high on civil liberties and freedom of the press – compared to other Arab countries, that is. Its economy is based on petroleum. I would've thought that Iraq might have attacked Kuwait in order to acquire all of that yummy coastline, but most historians believe that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was angry at Kuwait for the latter nation's reluctance to forgive Iraq's debt and was doubly angry at Kuwait for “over-producing” petroleum, therefore keeping oil prices down.

Some things I found interesting as I researched Kuwait:

  • There are about 3 expatriates to every 1 Kuwaiti living in Kuwait! (Expatriates are people who live outside of their native country.)

  • One thing you can find in Kuwait City—well, actually, in the Persian Gulf—is an artificial island called Green Island, a place where people stroll through gardens, swim in a lagoon, listen to concerts, and otherwise enjoy recreational activities. The “island” joins to the mainland by a pedestrian causeway.

  • Another island is Kobar or Kubbar Island. Kuwaitis travel there by boat and enjoy swimming and diving. There are no trees or buildings or anything on this island (although there are a few oil derricks). Man! In the U.S., I bet the island would have a McDonald's restaurant!

  • The Mirror House in Kuwait City is the only house in the world entirely covered with mirror mosaic by a single artist, Lidia Qattan.

Also on this date:

For Pete's Sake Day 

Anniversary of a patent for a glass-blowing machine

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February 25 – Happy Birthday, George Harrison

Posted on February 25, 2015

He was a part of THE most famous band. Ever. In the history of bands.

George Harrison (who was born on this date in 1943) was 13 years old when his dad gave his music-loving son a guitar. Within the year he had started a small skiffle group with school friends (skiffle was a type of folk-sy blues-y jazz-y music popular in the 1950s).

And when he had just turned 15 years old, Harrison took the advice of one of his friends, Paul McCartney, and auditioned for John Lennon's band, the Quarrymen.

Lennon thought Harrison was too young to be in the group. But Harrison began hanging out with the group, socializing, and he sometimes filled in on guitar when he was needed. Soon he was accepted as a member.

And in 1960 the Quarrymen became the Beatles!

I wonder if the then-17-year-old Harrison was ready for the fame, the fans, the friendships, the freak-out fun?

Could anyone really be ready for that?

Did you know...?

  • George Harrison became interested in all things Indian, learned to play the sitar, and converted to Hinduism. When he died at age 58 of lung cancer, his ashes were scattered in the Ganges and Yamuna rivers in India;

  • During Harrison's post-Beatles solo career, he co-wrote songs and produced music with such musical stars as Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, and Tom Petty.

  • One of the Beatles' most popular (and most covered) songs, “Something,” was written by Harrison, although most Beatles songs were famously co-written by Lennon and McCarthy. Most Beatles albums had at least one song written by Harrison.

  • Rolling Stone Magazine ranked Harrison #11 in their list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.

Also on this date:

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February 24 – Anniversary of The Descent of Man

Posted on February 24, 2015

When asked, “What book did Charles Darwin write?” most people who answered at all would say, “On the Origin of Species.” That was his first book about evolutionary theory, and it made the biggest splash in terms of controversy from scientists and the general public alike.

But although that first book implied that, if modern animals had evolved from simpler forms, humans, too, had evolved from "lower" animals—Darwin had been careful not to explore that concept in Origin. He let it just hang there, in the air: it was implied, not clearly stated.

Actually, Darwin had so little wanted to provoke controversy, he had sat on his unpublished evolutionary theory for 20 years! But in 1859, Origin was published, the word was out, and the firestorm of response began.

Flash forward to this date in 1871. In the 11 years since Origin, plenty of people had discussed and debated and written and published ideas about the evolution of human beings, but now Darwin weighed in on the topic with his book The Descent of Man. Finally Darwin was ready to state that humans, too, had evolved. People had common ancestors with other animals and even plants and mushrooms and protists!

(Remember, Darwin was not the first to claim that humans evolved. But his account of how evolutionary theory applied to humans was an important step in the field.)

A lot of people have made claims about the book The Descent of Man: Darwin was racist, they say, or Darwin wanted to kill off “weaker” humans in favor of the strong. Eugenics—the idea of making the human race better by making the genetic pool better, taller, smarter, stronger, more beautiful, by controlling breeding—is supposed to have gotten its start with Darwin's book.

It is clear that Darwin was a bit racist by today's standards. However, for an Englishman of his own time—a time when many argued that different races were actually different species—Darwin was notable for how minor he thought racial differences were. His book argued, with evidence, that all humans were the same species and shared common ancestors, and pointed out the similarities between all peoples. Also, Darwin was an abolitionist. He first saw slavery in Brazil, while on his famous voyage on the Beagle, and it had horrified him. He thought that “the race question” was one of the most important of his time.

Before Darwin (and unfortunately,
in some cases, even after
Darwin), some people would
have answered this plea, "No,
you're not a man and a brother."
It is also clear that Darwin seemed to think that it was inevitable that less technological people would either die off or be absorbed by what he called “civilised races.” However, he actually argued that people should NOT try to weed out the “weak” but instead should help the weak and the ill.

Darwin's work and book promoted our modern view: that all humans are the same species; that all people came from “savage” origins; that cultural differences swamp any minor physical differences among peoples.

Also on this date:

Robot-building pioneer Vaucanson's birthday

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February 23 – Iwo Jima Day

Posted on February 23, 2015

I sometimes avoid talking about World War II historical anniversaries, because they are so, so brutal. This one is no different.

Iwo Jima is a tiny volcanic island in the Pacific Ocean. Japanese troops had taken control of the island and used it as a base to watch for aircraft heading for Japan – and then of course to warn Japan of incoming aircraft. The U.S. wanted the island to act as a base for fighter aircraft and as an emergency-landing site. The 1945 battle to take Iwo Jima from Japanese control was exceptionally bloody. But U.S. outnumbered the Japanese and did win control of the island.

The island's highest and most strategic point was Mount Suribachi. During the battle for Iwo Jima, on this date in 1945, U.S. Marines climbed to that point and raised an American flag. Marine photographer Louis Lowery was with them and took a photo:

This photo did not become amazingly famous.

The raising of the U.S. flag bolstered the courage of the fighting forces. Men cheered for and were cheered by the sight.

A few hours later more Marines headed up with a larger flag. This flag-and-pole were heavy enough that five Marines and one Navy corpsman raised it.

Joe Rosenthal, a photographer with the Associated Press, a Marine still photographer, and a motion-picture cameraman were there to record the raising of the second, larger flag.

After the flag pole was fully erect, Rosenthal took a photo of 18 soldiers around the flag. They were smiling and waving for the camera.

Rosenthal sent his film to Guam to be developed and printed. An Associated Press photo editor saw them and picked out one of the photos – this one:

– and said, “Here's one for all time!” He immediately sent the photo to AP headquarters in New York, and soon newspapers all over were publishing the photograph.

We are used to instant digital photography and transmissions, but in 1945, it took a lot of time to send a physical roll of film to the developer, and of course to develop and print the film. The fact that this photograph was appearing in newspapers just seventeen and one-half hours after Rosenthal shot it was amazingly fast, for the time.

Back on Guam, someone asked Rosenthal if he had paused “the photograph.” Rosenthal assumed that the questioner meant the waving-smiling photo and answered, “Sure!” He did not realize that the questioner meant his six-guys-raising-the-flag photo – which was NOT staged.

Rosenthal did not realize that his 
six-guys-raising-the-flag photo would become the most reproduced photograph in history. He didn't know that it would win him a Pulitzer Prize. He didn't know that people would be confused by the two flag raisings and his answer about (he thought) another photo being staged, and he didn't know that, being confused, a Time-Life correspondent would say, “Rosenthal climbed Suribachi after the flag had already been planted. ... Like most photographers [he] could not resist reposing his characters in historic fashion.” (Of course, this incorrect report was quoted over and over again and added to confusion.) Rosenthal didn't know that people would ask him if the photo was staged over and over again – and, in some cases, accuse him of staging his famous shot over and over again – for years and for decades.

It's strange that there has been so much doubt and confusion, given the fact that there was a motion-picture cameraman recording the entire event. His footage proves that Rosenthal's famous photo was not staged.

Not only has Rosenthal's photo been reproduced by everyone, everywhere, a stamp with the image was released in 1945, and a statue of the image was crafted to serve as a memorial at the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery.

Also on this date:

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