Leo Szilard (1898)

Szilard was a Hungarian-American nuclear physicist who, after immigrating to America from Nazi Germany, was instrumental in the development of nuclear weapons. Working with Enrico Fermi, he developed the first self-sustained nuclear reactor based on uranium fission. He was one of the first to realize that nuclear chain reactions could be used in bombs and, in 1939, helped to establish the Manhattan Project. Later he protested nuclear warfare and decided to study what instead? Discuss
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Magha Purnima

Like Kartika Purnima, this is a Hindu bathing festival, and Hindus believe that bathing in the Ganges on this day is a great purifying act. When they cannot get to the Ganges, they bathe in the sea or in any holy stream, river, or tank (a pool or pond used to store water). There is a large tank that is considered holy at Kumbhkonam; Hindus believe on this particular day, the Ganges flows into the tank. Magha Purnima is a day for fasting and charities. Early in the morning, libations are offered to dead ancestors, while donations …read more

Bertolt Brecht (1898)

Brecht was a German playwright and poet whose brilliant wit and revolutionary theatrical experiments made him a vital and controversial force in modern drama. In 1928, he displayed his hostility toward capitalism as well as his bittersweet compassion for humanity in The Threepenny Opera. With the rise of the Nazis in 1933, he went into exile, first in Scandinavia and then in the US. One of Brecht’s most important theories was the concept of Verfremdungseffekt, which means what?
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Alan Magee’s Death-Defying Free Fall

Alan Magee was an American airman who amazingly survived a 22,000-ft (6,700-m) fall from his damaged B-17 bomber during World War II. In 1943, Magee was on a daylight bombing run over France when German fighters shot off a section of his plane’s right wing, causing the aircraft to enter a deadly spin. His parachute had been damaged and rendered useless, yet the wounded airman had no choice but to leap from the plane. He fell over four miles before what broke his fall?
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Lord Darnley, Second Husband of Mary Queen of Scots, Found Murdered (1567)

Though Darnley’s murder remains an unsolved mystery, one certainty is that at the time of his death, he was not well-liked. In line for the English throne, he infuriated Queen Elizabeth by marrying Mary Queen of Scots. He then alienated Mary by accusing her of infidelity and stabbing her secretary to death in front of her. Mary distanced herself from him, and shortly thereafter, his house exploded. He was found dead—but not from the blast. How was he killed, and who is suspected of his murder? Discuss
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The Vrba-Wetzler Report

Two weeks after their 1944 escape from Auschwitz, Rudolf Vrba and Alfréd Wetzler met with Jewish officials in Slovakia and gave them a detailed report on the Nazi concentration camp as well as sketches of its layout, gas chambers, and crematoria. Although the report’s release to the public was controversially delayed, it was the first detailed report on Auschwitz that the Allies found credible and is credited with having saved many lives. Why did Vrba claim the report was deliberately withheld? Discuss
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Thaipusam is a dramatic Hindu festival celebrated in India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Singapore, and elsewhere. The day marks the victory of the god Subramaniam (Lord Murugar) over the demons, and it is a time of penance, usually involving self-mortification. In Malaysia, a statue of Subramaniam is taken from the Sri Mariamman temple and placed in a silver chariot. Then begins a grand procession to his tomb in the Batu Caves, where the statue is carried up 272 steps and placed beside the permanent statue kept there. The next day about 200,000 people begin to pay homage. <a target="_blank" …read more

John Quincy Adams Elected US President by Congress (1825)

Without a strong party system in place, the 1824 US presidential election was based on regional, rather than party, support. Consequently, of the five candidates who ran for office, none received enough electoral votes to take office, sending the decision to the House of Representatives under the terms of the twelfth amendment. Although Andrew Jackson had earned a plurality of the popular vote, Adams was elected because, according to the Jacksonians, he had struck a “corrupt bargain” with whom? Discuss
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James Whitaker Wright (1846)

The son of a poor minister, Wright went on to become an extremely wealthy mining company owner. He lived a lavish lifestyle and mingled with the social elite, giving off the appearance of a legitimate and successful businessman. Yet, when his companies collapsed in 1900, it was revealed that he had earned his fortune by defrauding investors. Convicted in 1904 of fraud, he chose to end his own life rather than serve out his prison sentence. How did he kill himself while still in the courthouse? Discuss
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Tightrope Between the Towers

Philippe Petit is a French high-wire artist who gained fame for his illegal 1974 walk between the former Twin Towers in New York. After six years of planning, Petit used a 450-pound (204-kg) cable and a 26-foot (8-m), 55-pound (25-kg) balancing pole to make eight crossings between the still unfinished towers—walking, jumping, and lying down on the wire for more than an hour before being arrested when he returned to the tower roof. What punishment did Petit receive for his stunt? Discuss
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Jules Gabriel Verne (1828)

Verne was a French novelist credited with originating the modern genre of science fiction. Early on, he was interested in theater and wrote librettos for operas. Later, he drew upon his knowledge of science and geography to write romances of extraordinary journeys, which quickly became very popular. He wrote more than 50 books in his lifetime, including A Journey to the Center of the Earth and Around the World in Eighty Days. One of his books explores a five-week journey by what? Discuss
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Émile Zola Is Put on Trial for Publishing “J’Accuse” (1898)

A Jewish officer in the French army, Alfred Dreyfus was falsely convicted of treason in 1894. When officers discovered that the evidence against Dreyfus was false—and that he was most likely a victim of anti-Semitism—they covered it up. Writer Émile Zola exposed the scandal by publishing in a newspaper an open letter titled “J’accuse.” Zola was tried and convicted of criminal libel but fled the country, which was divided by the scandal. What happened to Dreyfus and Zola? Discuss
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Laura Elizabeth Ingalls Wilder (1867)

Wilder was the American author of a classic series of children’s books based on her childhood. Born in Wisconsin after the Civil War, she traveled with her pioneer family throughout the Midwest by covered wagon for years before settling in the Dakota Territory. As a farmer and mother she struggled for years. Her first novel, Little House in the Big Woods was not published until 1932, when she was 65. How many of her books, which spawned a popular TV show, were published after her death? Discuss
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Due to a wealth of fossil remains, the first of which was found in the late 1870s, Diplodocus is one of the best-studied dinosaurs. The herbivorous dinosaur roamed western North America about 145 million years ago, during the late Jurassic period, walked on four legs, and had an extremely small brain and skull. One of the longest known sauropods, Diplodocus could grow to be 88 ft (27 m) long, most of which was neck and tail. With what man-made structure is it often compared? Discuss
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Charles Lindbergh (1902)

In 1927, Lindbergh, an American aviator, made the first nonstop solo flight across the Atlantic in 33.5 hours, landing in Paris to a hero’s welcome. He returned to the US a celebrity but moved to England in 1932 to escape the media frenzy surrounding the kidnapping and murder of his son. Returning to the US in 1940, he faced criticism for opposing US entry into WWII. Still, he flew combat missions for the US during the war. He helped invent what device that made open-heart surgery possible? Discuss
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Street Art

Street art is any art developed in public spaces and includes traditional graffiti, stencil graffiti, sticker art, video projections, street installations, and posters. Though it usually refers to art of an illicit nature, the term is used to distinguish contemporary public-space artwork from territorial graffiti, vandalism, and corporate art. Some street artists have even achieved mainstream recognition and commercial success. Who are some prominent street artists? Discuss
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Quebec Winter Carnival

The celebration of winter that has been held since the mid-1950s in Quebec City ranks among the great carnivals of the world. It begins with the Queen’s Ball at the Château Frontenac and a parade of illuminated floats. More than 40,000 tons of snow are trucked in to construct a large snow castle, which is illuminated at night and which serves as a mock jail. Bonhomme Carnaval, the festival’s seven-foot-high snowman mascot dressed in a red cap and traditional sash, roams the streets teasing children and looking for people to lock up in the Ice Palace. …read more

Norman Rockwell (1894)

Rockwell was an American illustrator whose idealized scenes of family life in small-town America gained enormous popularity with the public. His illustrations appeared in major periodicals such as Collier’s and Life. From 1916 to 1963, he produced 317 covers for The Saturday Evening Post, and during WWII his patriotic posters were distributed by the government. What unusually serious subject did the sentimental illustrator cover for Look magazine later in his career? Discuss
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Harold Macmillan Delivers “Wind of Change” Speech (1960)

British statesman Harold Macmillan held several government posts during World War II, including minister resident in North Africa. After serving in several other positions, he became prime minister in 1957. Macmillan accelerated Britain’s decolonization, especially in Africa. In a memorable speech to the South African parliament in 1960, he said a “wind of change” was sweeping across Africa, which was experiencing a growth in national consciousness. What were the reactions to the speech? Discuss
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Mourning Sickness

Disparaged by critics as the new opiate of the masses, “mourning sickness” is the relatively recent phenomenon of collective public grieving for murder victims and celebrities who have died. Princess Diana’s death in 1997 prompted one of the most widespread examples of this in the UK, where makeshift memorials quickly became gathering places for public displays of mourning. The advent of the Internet provided the public with a new forum in which to share their grief. Who was Anna Svidersky? Discuss
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George Halas, “Papa Bear” (1895)

Halas was a pioneering football player, coach, and owner of one of the 11 original teams in the American Professional Football Association (APFA), the Decatur Staleys. Founded in 1920, the APFA went on to become the National Football League (NFL) in 1922—the same year Halas moved his team to Chicago and renamed it the Bears. Under his leadership, the Chicago Bears won seven NFL championships. In addition to coaching, Halas also played what position during the 1920s? Discuss
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After observing the traditional 40-day period of purification following the birth of Jesus, Mary presented him to God at the Temple in Jerusalem. According to a New Testament gospel, an aged and devout Jew named Simeon held the baby in his arms and said he would be “a light to lighten the Gentiles”. It is for this reason that February 2 has come to be called Candlemas and has been celebrated by the blessing of candles since the 11th century. In both the Eastern and Western churches, it is now known as the Feast of the Presentation …read more

William Clark Gable (1901)

Despite having such large ears that some doubted he could become a romantic lead, Gable had a rugged masculinity and lighthearted charm that proved popular with audiences. The actor debuted on Broadway in 1928 and went to Hollywood in 1930. There he starred in Mutiny on the Bounty, Gone with the Wind, and It Happened One Night, for which he won an Academy Award. What tragedy prompted him to give up show business and become a bomber pilot during World War II? Discuss
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Vote Pairing

Also called vote swapping, vote pairing is an election system that allows people to vote tactically. A person who engages in this sort of vote trading agrees to vote for a less-preferred candidate who has a greater chance of winning in his district, and in exchange, a voter from another district agrees to vote for the candidate the first voter prefers. Though the practice is fairly informal, it can sometimes be quite sophisticated and involve websites that pair up voters. Is the practice legal? Discuss
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