Month: October 2019

The 1755 Lisbon Earthquake

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One of the deadliest earthquakes in history struck Lisbon, Portugal, in 1755, killing at least 30,000. The earthquake, followed by a tsunami and raging fires, almost totally destroyed the city, leaving just 15% of its buildings standing.

The study of the quake’s causes led to the beginnings of seismology. Geologists today estimate that the temblor, with an epicenter in the Atlantic Ocean, approached magnitude 9 on the moment magnitude scale.

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Bouncing Betty

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The German S-mine, nicknamed the “bouncing betty” by US troops during World War II, is the best-known example of a bounding mine. These land mines are designed to attack unshielded infantry by launching into the air, exploding at waist-height, and propelling shrapnel outward at lethal speeds. One of the definitive weapons of the war, the S-mine often maimed rather than killed its victims and was one of the most feared devices encountered by Allied troops. What did French soldiers dub the S-mine? Discuss
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Reformation Day

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When Martin Luther (1483-1546), a German monk and religious reformer, nailed his 95 “theses” (or propositions) to the church door in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517, so many people agreed with his ideas that they spread throughout western Europe and touched off a religious revolt known as the Reformation. As a result, many Christians broke their centuries-old connection with the Roman Catholic Church and established independent churches of their own, prime among them being the Lutheran Church. October 31 is observed by most Protestant denominations as Reformation Day.

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Burning of the USS Philadelphia (1804)

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The USS Philadelphia was a 36-gun frigate that ran aground in October 1803 while blockading the coast of Tripoli. After some consideration, the Americans decided that the ship was too powerful a weapon to remain in enemy hands and sent a party of soldiers to recapture the ship and burn it. In carrying out “the most bold and daring act of the age,” the assaulting party used what ruse to sail up to the ship without arousing the suspicion of its Tripolitan guards?
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Inauguration Day (United States)

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From 1789 until 1933, the day on which the newly elected president of the United States began his term of office was March 4. The day was changed to January 20 when the 20th Amendment to the Constitution was passed in 1933. At noontime, the chief justice of the United States Supreme Court administers the oath of office to the president, who then delivers an Inaugural Address. This is followed by a colorful Inauguration Parade through the streets of Washington, D.C. Discuss
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Harry S. Truman Announces His Point Four Program (1949)

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As the fourth point of his presidential inauguration address in 1949, Truman announced what became known as his Point Four Program—the US policy of technical assistance and economic aid to less-developed countries. Such assistance, mainly in agriculture, public health, and education, was provided through contracts with US business and educational organizations. During the Cold War, the US government used Point Four to win support from uncommitted nations. Does the program still exist? Discuss
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Beehive Tombs

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Beehive tombs, or tholoi, are the large, underground ceremonial tombs constructed in Greece during the Late Bronze Age. The tombs, usually built into the side of a hill, have a distinctive beehive shape formed with layers of stone that taper toward the top of the structure. Though many of these tombs have been pillaged, they have still provided archeologists with some of the richest finds from the period. What might the abundance of such tombs at certain sites reveal about who used them? Discuss
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Winterlude

A midwinter civic festival held in Ottawa, Canada, Winterlude is primarily a celebration of winter sports. The Rideau Canal, which has been referred to as “the world’s longest skating rink,” is nearly eight kilometers (five miles) long and provides an excellent outdoor skating facility. There is also snowshoeing, skiing, curling (in which thick, heavy stone and iron disks are slid across the ice toward a target), speedskating, dogsled racing, and tobogganing. For those who prefer not to participate in the many sporting events, there is an elaborate snow sculpture exhibit known as Ice Dream.

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James Watt (1736)

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A largely self-taught Scottish engineer and inventor, Watt greatly impacted the Industrial Revolution with his development of the Watt engine. Asked to repair a model of Thomas Newcomen’s steam engine, he instead made improvements to it that resulted in a new type of engine. One such design enhancement, the separate condenser, radically improved the power, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness of steam engines. The watt, a unit of power, is named for him. What other unit of power did he develop?
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Jug Bands

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Jug bands are musical groups that use a mix of traditional and improvised instruments—usually ordinary objects modified for making music, such as the jug, washtub bass, washboard, spoons, stovepipe, and kazoo. Early jug bands were typically made up of African-American vaudeville and medicine show musicians. Emerging in the urban South, the bands played a mixture of Memphis blues—before it was formally called the blues—ragtime, and Appalachian music. How does one play the jug? Discuss
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Archibald Alexander Leach, AKA Cary Grant (1904)

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Grant performed with an acrobatic comedy troupe in England before he found parts in stage musicals. After he made his film debut in 1932, his debonair charm, good looks, and distinctive voice made him a popular star in sophisticated comedies such as Bringing Up Baby, His Girl Friday, and The Philadelphia Story. He also starred in many Alfred Hitchcock thrillers, including North by Northwest. He received an honorary Academy Award in 1970. What was his last film? Discuss
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flashover

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n. the moment a conversation becomes real and alive, which occurs when a spark of trust shorts out the delicate circuits you keep insulated under layers of irony, momentarily grounding the static emotional charge you’ve built up through decades of friction with the world.

wytai

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n. a feature of modern society that suddenly strikes you as absurd and grotesque—from zoos and milk-drinking to organ transplants, life insurance, and fiction—part of the faint background noise of absurdity that reverberates from the moment our ancestors first crawled out of the slime but could not for the life of them remember what they got up to do.

kuebiko

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n. a state of exhaustion inspired by an act of senseless violence, which forces you to revise your image of what can happen in this world—mending the fences of your expectations, weeding out invasive truths, cultivating the perennial good that’s buried under the surface—before propping yourself up in the middle of it like an old scarecrow, who’s bursting at the seams but powerless to do anything but stand there and watch.

“When you were born they put you in a little box and…

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“When you were born they put you in a little box and slapped a label on it. But if we begin to notice these categories no longer fit us, maybe it’ll mean that we’ve finally arrived—just unpacking the boxes, making ourselves at home.”

From The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. Chapter 2 begins now.

lachesism

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n. the desire to be struck by disaster—to survive a plane crash, to lose everything in a fire, to plunge over a waterfall—which would put a kink in the smooth arc of your life, and forge it into something hardened and flexible and sharp, not just a stiff prefabricated beam that barely covers the gap between one end of your life and the other.

exulansis

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n. the tendency to give up trying to talk about an experience because people are unable to relate to it—whether through envy or pity or simple foreignness—which allows it to drift away from the rest of your life story, until the memory itself feels out of place, almost mythical, wandering restlessly in the fog, no longer even looking for a place to land.

avenoir – n. the desire that memory could flow backward We take…

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avenoir - n. the desire that memory could flow backward

We take it for granted that life moves forward. But you move as a rower moves, facing backwards: you can see where you’ve been, but not where you’re going. And your boat is steered by a younger version of you. It’s hard not to wonder what life would be like facing the other way…

Sometimes it feels like your life is flashing before your eyes,…

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Sometimes it feels like your life is flashing before your eyes, but it’s actually the opposite: you’re thinking forward, to all the things you haven’t done, the places you intend to visit, the goals you’ll get around to…