Monthly Archives: December 2019

St. Sylvester's Day (Madeira)

In many European countries, December 31, in addition to being New Year’s Eve, is also the observance of St. Sylvester’s Day, the feast day of Pope Sylvester (314-335). In Madeira, a group of Portuguese islands off the northwest coast of Africa, one of the world’s most impressive fireworks displays takes place on the evening of this day, which is known as the Great Festival of St. Sylvester. The noise of the fireworks resounds over the Bay of Funchal, the islands’ capital, where oceanliners make a special stop so that passengers can watch the celebrations. Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin

Considered the father of modern conjuring, Houdin was a French magician after whom Harry Houdini named himself. Originally a clockmaker, he was celebrated for his optical illusions and mechanical devices. He was the first to use electromagnetism for his effects, and attributed his magic to natural instead of supernatural means. In 1856, he was sent to Algeria by the French government to counter the influence of the dervishes by outdoing their feats. What are some of his famous illusions? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

Saddam Hussein Is Executed (2006)

During his presidency of Iraq from 1979 to 2003, Hussein instituted a brutal dictatorship, launching wars against Iran and Kuwait and directing campaigns against Iraqi minorities, particularly the Kurds. After an Anglo-American force invaded Iraq in 2003 and drove him from power, he spent several months in hiding but was captured by US forces. In 2006, the Iraqi High Tribunal sentenced him to death for crimes against humanity. What hobby did Hussein take up while in prison awaiting execution? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

General Tso

Known in the West as General Tso, Zuo Zongtang was a Qing dynasty general who launched his political career by helping suppress the Taiping Rebellion. In the debate among Chinese officials about whether the coast or inland frontier was more vulnerable to attack, Zuo argued that Western interests were commercial in nature and could be contained diplomatically but that Russia’s ambitions were territorial and warranted solid frontier defense. How did a popular chicken dish come to be named for him? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

The Bone-Eating Snot Flower

Osedax is a genus of polychaete—sea worm—that feeds on the bones of whale carcasses. Possessing neither stomachs nor mouths, members of the Osedax genus rely on symbiotic species of bacteria to digest whale fat and oils and to release nutrients that they can absorb through unusual root-like structures. One species is known as the “bone-eating snot flower” after its scientific name, Osedax mucofloris. When were these strange creatures first discovered? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary

Operation Ivory Coast

Operation Ivory Coast was a failed rescue mission conducted by US special forces during the Vietnam War. The goal of the mission was to rescue 61 American prisoners of war thought to be held at a prison camp in North Vietnam. After months of planning and training, an elite team of soldiers helicoptered in and stormed the compound in the early morning of November 21, 1970. The raid was executed successfully, with only a few injuries, but the mission was ultimately deemed a failure. Why? Discuss

Source: The Free Dictionary