The birthday of naturalist and plant breeder Luther Burbank (1849-1926) is observed in California in much the same way Arbor Day is observed in other states—that is, with activities promoting the value of natural resources and the protection of trees and birds. Burbank moved from his native Massachusetts to Santa Rosa, California, in 1875 and spent the rest of his life there experimenting with new varieties of fruits, flowers, and vegetables. On March 7, a birthday and Arbor Day celebration is held at the Luther Burbank Home and Gardens. Discuss
Originally an audiologist, professor, and teacher of the deaf, Bell became interested in the idea of transmitting sound waves by wire when he misread a thesis by a German physicist. He mistakenly believed that the thesis implied such a transmission was possible. It did not, but Bell’s idea was sound. Later, he described his mistranslation as a “valuable blunder.” Three days after receiving a patent for his device, he spoke the first sentence ever transmitted by telephone. What was it? Discuss
Definition: (noun) A difficulty that causes anxiety.
Synonyms: troublesomeness, inconvenience.
Usage: To him, everything was a worriment, and his anxiety increased every day.
During his career as a broadcast journalist, “Uncle Walter,” as Cronkite was affectionately known, was identified in public opinion polls as the most trusted man in America. He was managing editor and anchorman of The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite for almost 20 years and covered the first televised US presidential election, the 1969 moon landing, and the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy. In 1981, he signed off for the last time with what famous phrase?
Costello was an American comedian who, along with Bud Abbott, formed the comedic duo of Abbott and Costello. From 1931 to 1957, Costello played a bumbling, cheery dimwit alongside Abbott’s “straight man” in various stage, radio, and TV routines, the most famous of which was their “Who’s on First?” skit. Regarded as the archetypal team of burlesque comedy, the pair starred in movies such as Buck Privates and Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein. Why did the two eventually part ways?
In a remote, mist-wrapped island north of the eastern tip of Siberia, a small group of woolly mammoths became the last survivors of their once thriving species. They fell extinct 4,000 years ago, having endured for some 6,000 years after the mammoths of the … Discuss
Though few authorities include Amblypoda in modern classifications, scientists once defined it as a group of extinct, herbivorous mammals common to North America during the Tertiary period. Once considered a suborder of primitive ungulates, or hoofed mammals, experts have since concluded that members do not share a common ancestor. They do agree, however, that the group’s members had very small brain cavities relative to their mass. From what physical characteristic is the group’s name derived? Discuss
Constitutions should consist only of general provisions; the reason is that they must necessarily be permanent, and that they cannot calculate for the possible change of things. Discuss
Definition: (noun) The study of the metrical structure of verse.
Usage: He was a master of meter, and contributed certain modifications to the laws of Chinese prosody which exist to the present day.
Prior to the advent of trucking in the early 1900s, rail was the only efficient way to transport goods over land. However, before the 1870s, there was no easy way to quickly stop the extremely heavy freight trains. Brakemen scrambled over the tops of moving cars to activate hand brakes on each one. The system was unreliable, resulting in frequent derailments, and many brakemen were killed or maimed after falling from trains. The air brake solved all of those problems. How did it work? Discuss
The massive 1883 eruption of the volcanic island of Krakatoa in Indonesia ejected more than 6 cu mi (25 cu km) of rock and ash, destroyed the island, and left more than 36,000 people dead. The eruption’s explosive power was about 13,000 times greater than that of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, and the sound of the explosion, believed to be the loudest sound in recorded history, was heard some 3,000 mi (4,828 km) away. What was the only living thing researchers found on the island in 1884? Discuss
Pyle was an American illustrator and writer who specialized in tales of chivalry and adventure for children. He rewrote and realistically illustrated classic tales about figures like Robin Hood and King Arthur, adapting the stories to suit a younger audience. In 1900, he founded an art school, and many of his students went on to become famous illustrators themselves. Today, he is considered the father of American illustration. Which noted Post-Impressionist painter was an admirer of Pyle’s work? Discuss
Definition: (adjective) Marked by conspicuous display.
Synonyms: flashy, gaudy, jazzy, showy.
Usage: The Thompsons thought it inappropriate that their newly widowed neighbor wore such a sporty outfit to her husband’s funeral.
Oleander is an evergreen shrub that grows well in warm subtropical regions and is native to a broad area that extends from Morocco to China. Its fragrant flowers grow in a variety of colors, and it is widely used as an ornamental plant in landscapes and parks. It is also one of the most poisonous known plants and contains several toxic, sometimes deadly, compounds. Even its bark contains rosagenin, which is known for its strychnine-like effects. Why is oleander the official flower of Hiroshima?
Nicknamed “Mama Africa,” Makeba was a Grammy Award-winning singer and activist. In 1963, after she testified against apartheid before the UN, South Africa revoked her citizenship and right to return to the country. She settled in the US, where her musical career flourished, then moved to Guinea after being criticized for marrying a Black Panther. She remained in exile for 30 years, finally returning to her homeland in 1990 at the end of apartheid. Why did she spend six months in jail as a baby?
Though he spent most of his career in the US, British-born silent-film legend Charlie Chaplin never applied for citizenship. The US took advantage of this fact in 1952, while Chaplin was overseas, revoking his re-entry permit over his alleged Communist ties. His political leanings, as well as his many affairs with young women, nearly cost him a knighthood, but after decades of debate, he was finally knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. What was stolen from Chaplin’s grave shortly after his death? Discuss
A huge carnival and ball, Bal du Rat Mort is concentrated in the casino of Ostende, Belgium, but also spread out all over the town. The carnival began at the end of the 19th century, launched by members of the Oostende Art and Philanthropic Circle (Circle Coecilia) who named the affair for a café on Montmartre (a hilly part of northern Paris, home to many artists) where they had whiled away pleasant hours. People are masked at the ball, and there’s a competition for the best costume.
Not always – but most of us will smile at the sight anyway. A favorite of young and old alike for its vivid color and cheery song, the American robin is the state bird of Connecticut, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
Cornell Lab of Ornithology
We think of American Robins as harbingers of spring, so when we see them during the winter, what does that mean? Is spring coming early? Are there a few confused birds in your neighborhood? Find out in our Question of the Week:
Definition: (noun) Something shadowy and insubstantial.
Synonyms: ghost, specter, spook, shade.
Usage: He refused to venture near cemeteries, fearing he’d encounter wraiths, ghosts, and apparitions of all kinds.
The Kalahari Desert is an arid to semi-arid desert area that extends over 362,500 sq mi (900,000 sq km), forming most of Botswana and extending into Namibia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Although its name is likely derived from words meaning “great thirst” or “a waterless place,” the Kalahari is not a true desert. In fact, some areas receive erratic rainfall and are well vegetated, and the region is home to a number of animals. What is sand mining, and how does it impact the Kalahari’s wildlife? Discuss
Wild African elephants sleep for the shortest time of any mammal, according to a study. Scientists tracked two elephants in Botswana to find out more about the animals’ natural sleep patterns. Elephants in zoos sleep for four to six hours a day, but in … Discuss
Pullman was a successful American industrialist and the inventor of the railroad sleeping car. In 1893, he built a company town for his workers in Illinois, and it was showcased in the World’s Fair as a grand social experiment. The next year, the town of Pullman was the scene of a violent workers’ strike that nearly halted US rail traffic. When Pullman died in 1897, he had to be buried in a massive steel-and-concrete vault to keep activists from disinterring his body. What happened to his town? Discuss
Though it is today one of the most popular operas ever written, Carmen was initially met with such scathing reviews that the opera house had to give away tickets to get people to see it. Shortly after its disastrous premiere, its author, Bizet, died of a heart attack and the director of the struggling opera house resigned. Later that year, however, Carmen opened in Vienna to wide acclaim. Why did critics initially hate Bizet’s story of a soldier’s doomed love for a wild Gypsy girl? Discuss
Definition: (adjective) Having very short or rudimentary wings, as certain insects.
Usage: Some brachypterous insects evade predators by jumping short distances.
Ethiopia is an African country that successfully shook off European domination for centuries. One pivotal moment of resistance was the Ethiopian army’s historic victory, led by Emperor Menelik II, over invading Italian troops in the Battle of Adwa, a two-day battle that ended on March 2. Festivities take place on its anniversary throughout the country, with official ceremonies in the capital, Addis Ababa, and Adwa, the market town located near the battle site. People will also leave wreaths at the Menelik Monument, which commemorates the victory led by the Ethiopian emperor.
Freeze-drying is a dehydration process typically used to preserve perishable material or make it more convenient to transport. The process involves freezing a substance, reducing the surrounding pressure, and adding enough heat to allow the frozen water in the material to sublimate, or change directly from the solid to gas state. Properly sealed freeze-dried substances can be stored at room temperature for years without spoiling. How is freeze-drying often used by pharmaceutical companies? Discuss
This battle was an unparalleled victory for Allied air power in WWII. During the engagement, Allied planes attacked and nearly obliterated a Japanese convoy transporting thousands of troops to New Guinea. The Japanese loss of critical reinforcements and supplies changed the course of the Pacific War. The Allies were later criticized for strafing Japanese survivors, reportedly in retaliation for Japanese actions earlier in the battle. What new bombing technique did the Allies use in the battle? Discuss
Definition: (noun) A chamber that is used as a grave.
Synonyms: burial chamber.
Usage: The archaeologists opened the sepulcher expecting to find ancient artifacts, but the burial chamber turned out to be completely empty.
With the body of a lion, the tail of a scorpion or dragon, the head of a human, and three rows of sharp teeth, the legendary manticore bears several similarities to the Egyptian sphinx. A mythical creature of Persian origin whose name derives from the Persian word for “man-eater,” the manticore is rumored to kill its victims instantly with only a single bite or scratch and then fully devour them. The manticore was said to roam the jungles of what country? Discuss
Every year on March 1, people in Bulgaria present each other with martenitzas—two joined tassels of red-and-white woolen thread symbolizing health and happiness. In some regions, women dress completely in red on this day. In northeastern Bulgaria, the lady of the house traditionally tosses a red cloth over a fruit tree, or spreads a red woolen cloth on the fields for fertility. In stock-breeding areas, a red-and-white thread is tied to the cattle. Bulgaria is the only country where this particular fertility custom seems to have survived. Discuss