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Woman Vs. Tradition

Theresa Kachindamoto                                                                                                 UN Women
Theresa Kachindamoto, the youngest of 12 children, was a secretary at a city college when she got the call. The chiefs had named her the next senior chief in her home Dedza district of Malawi. That was in 2003, and since then, this mother of five has worked tirelessly to end child marriage in a country that, in 2012, was ranked by the United Nations as being eighth out of the 20 countries with the highest child-marriage rates. It is also one of the world's poorest countries, and early marriage is seen as a way of alleviating families' financial strain. In her effort to get children ~ and particularly girls ~ back in school, Kachindamoto has changed laws, annulled marriages, fired chiefs, and worked with community members and local committees. "First of all it was difficult, but now people are understanding," she says:

The Short Version

Thank you, mental_floss! "'Abridged Classics' feature mini-drawings of great novels like War and Peace, Crime and Punishment, and Wuthering Heights. Their captions provide plot summaries that read like sarcastic two- or three-line book reports—you know, the kind your high school English teacher likely wouldn't appreciate, but the rest of the class would find funny":

Life of the Party

It seems fitting now, while many maintain that we are witnessing the demise ~ or, at least, the malaise ~ of the Republican Party, that we are reminded of the circumstances of its birth, way back in the 1850s. from

Today's selection -- from Franklin Pierce by Michael F. Holt. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 -- an act which compelled states to return escaped slaves from another state -- had infuriated citizens in the northern states like few legislative acts in American history. Then came the Democratic Party's Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which allowed those two territories to determine the question of slavery by popular vote, in apparent abrogation of the Missouri Compromise of 1820. This caused all political hell to break loose, with many Whigs and Northern Democrats departing from their respective parties over the issue, and new parties like the Free Soilers formed specifically to protest this expansion of slavery. These coalesced in 1854 into a new party, which called itself the Republican Party, but some Whig stalwarts like Abraham Lincoln rebuffed overtures to join:

   "A diverse conglomeration of new political coalitions emerged to compete with the Whigs for the anti-Democratic [party] vote [caused by the Kansas-Nebraska Act]. Within two years these newcom­ers would send the venerable Whig Party to its grave. A crucial facet of nineteenth-century political life can help the modern reader understand how this could happen. After all, today's major parties, the Democrats and Republicans, appear almost invulnerable to challenges from new parties. But that invulnerability is largely attributable to the fact that state governments print the ballots voters cast, punch, or mark, and the same governments control the access that parties have to those publicly printed ballots. Thus challengers to the major parties must jump through hoops, usually by collecting signa­tures on petitions, to get on the ballot so that people might have a chance to vote for them. In the nineteenth century, however, governments did not print and distribute ballots. That was the job of the political parties themselves. In effect, this system meant that all that was needed to launch a new party was access to printing presses and enough volunteer manpower to distribute its ballots at the polls. That was the scenario in the extraordinarily tumultuous elections of 1854-55 in which the northern electorate repudiated [the Democratic Party].

   "In the midwestern states where Whigs were least competi­tive by the end of 1853 and where many angry Whig politicos vowed never again to cooperate with southern Whigs because of their betrayal on Nebraska -- Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Wis­consin, and the northern third of Illinois -- Whig leaders in effect posted 'Gone Out of Business' signs on the doors of party headquarters. These Whigs joined

The Sensitive Grammarian

An interesting study seems to show that it's the introverts among us who are most bothered by grammar and spelling mistakes and typos. Why? Because of the very thing that divides the introverts from the extroverts, our sensitivity threshold:

Riches and Rubble

the Palkiya Haveli was restored and turned into a hotel
India's region of Shekhawati gets its name from Maharao Shekha (1433-1488), who succeeded his father as chieftain at the age of 12 and led his first military attack when he was 16. With his five queens, he had 12 sons and three daughters. But, fascinating as that may be, it's not what this story is about. It's about the area itself, because during the 19th century, it became home to merchants who grew very wealthy by trading opium, cotton, and spices. Their homes became larger and more ostentatious, filled with carved decor and intricate frescoes on every wall. Eventually business moved elsewhere, and with it, the business people, and the havelis (mansions) were abandoned and left to crumble in oblivion. Fortunately, some of them are being restored and reborn as hotels, cultural centers, and museums (story, video, lots of photos):

The New Black

It's beyond black-out. As in, if the English had had curtains made out of Vantablack, the Nazi bomber pilots would have thought they were still flying over the Channel ~ or maybe into a black hole (if they had known what a black hole was). It's blacker than black, and all because of little carbon nanotubes (as in, "vanta," or "vertically aligned nanotube array") that trap visible light, which bounces around between them until only 0.035 percent remains. And now, there's a spray paint version of the amazing material. Imagine the possibilities in art, design, and architecture:

Just Because: 'Chaïm Soutine: The Errant Road, 1939'

'Windy Day, Auxerre,' by Chaïm Soutine ca. 1939                                         The Phillips Collection
"This poem is from a series based on a decades-long fascination with the landscapes of the early-twentieth-century painter Chaïm Soutine," writes poet Cole Swensen. "The critic Clarisse Nicoïdski claimed that Soutine was the painter 'who made the wind visible.' This series tries to capture and continue Soutine’s synesthetic grasp of the world." Soutine (1893-1943) was an Expressionist artist. Born in Belarus, he moved to Paris in 1913 to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. His paintings, focusing as they do on shape, texture, and feeling, are seen as a bridge between the more classical form of Expressionism and Abstract Expressionism. from poem-a-day:

as if a road could be otherwise but geometry
defies the man who is lost on the road that
the trees want to reach and reach down
to his walking on
along a verticality that defies
the requirements of normative perspective
and so he will reach, and the trees against chalk—
the gesture of the arm extended is central
to all Soutine's work be it a branch or an ache
or a split of the face, going off. In this case
can you say that a man is lost just because
you cannot distinguish him from the background.

Bacteria: Changing Minds

Science Photo Library
We've been hearing a lot about bacteria lately. How some have become antibiotic-resistant. How being exposed to the right ones early on could prevent asthma and allergies. And how one strain seems to enjoy life in space more than here on Earth. But wait, there's more! "Recent studies have begun turning up tantalizing hints about how the bacteria living in the gut can alter the way the brain works. These findings raise a question with profound implications for mental health: Can we soothe our brains by cultivating our bacteria?":
   "We are, at least from the standpoint of DNA, more microbial than human. That’s a phenomenal insight and one that we have to take seriously when we think about human development," says National Institute of Mental Health director Tom Insel. Mark Lyte, of Texas Tech University's Health Sciences Center, has been studying the links between our gut microbes and our brain for three decades:

Out of the Minds of Babes

first up, Sandra Matz
Pacific Standard compiled a list of 30 great thinkers under the age of 30 and found that they all have three things in common, namely, imagination, polymathy, and passion. Oh, and something else ~ an almost superhuman amount of energy and drive. "Yes, some of us have T-shirts older than these kids, none of whom was born before 1986," according to the intro, "but each of them is already a remarkable thinker whose vast energy pulses out to make the world a better, more interesting place":

The Mighty Le Pen

AFP/Getty Images
There is no doubt that nationalism and identity politics are on the rise not just in the United States but in Europe and elsewhere. Marine Le Pen, daughter of National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, has been at the forefront of that movement in France. How much of her tough single-mindedness is a result of the many emotional hardships she suffered during her childhood, and how much is it a product of her early realization that following in her father's footsteps was the only way to get his attention and approval? Le Pen's analysis is typically stoical. "We are all the children of our wounds," she says:

Hair Today

Joining the awesome list of books about things (think Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World, Salt: A World History, all those great tomes by Mary Roach) is the alliteratively titled Hair: A Human History, by Kurt Stenn. "From the felted wool covers of tennis balls to the horse-tail hair of a violin’s bow," this reviewer writes, "Stenn, a former dermatologist and hair follicle scientist, digs up the myriad ways that hair has threaded its way into humans’ lives—and history":

The Children Are Our Future

Hayat Khan, 8                   Muhammed Muheisen, AP
Gullakhta Nawab, 6           Muhammed Muheisen, AP
“The eyes of children are innocent," says photographer Muhammed Muheisen of his subjects, Syrian and Afghan refugee children. "They can't hide, they can't lie, they can't fake. They just stand in front of the camera like adults, and they look straight into your lens, and if you're lucky enough to have time before they run away, you capture the moment.” These 12 portraits were taken in Pakistan and Jordan (story, slideshow):

Barba Roja and the American Dancer

Manuel Piñeiro Losada, left, with Che Guevara, right
Shakespeare knew the lure of a good story about young love crossing the divide between warring factions. Fortunately, this tale of a dancer from Preston, Connecticut, who falls in love with a Cuban revolutionary doesn't have the tragic ending of Romeo and Juliet. Still, it is just as fascinating ~ and even more incredible, in that it's true (story, video):

Your Wild Side

California red-legged frog               Edgar Ortega
An amusing little quiz (eight questions long) from the National Wildlife Federation purporting to uncover the species closest to your heart ~ your patronus, if you will. It's educational, too. Apparently, I'm a California red-legged frog, which I found out is the largest native frog in the Western U.S. Unfortunately, it's also number four on the list of America's most threatened frogs, a distinction that started with the California gold miners, who ate them almost to oblivion, and continues today, thanks to the invasive American bullfrog and habitat destruction:|STBot

The Price of Independence

This excerpt from the book Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire describes the events that took place in Delhi at midnight, August 14, 1947. That was the moment India became a free nation. As joyous as that moment was for the country, what followed was tragic and perhaps inevitable. Its echoes can be heard even today. (It's worth noting that, in the comments section, a reader contends that the term "civil war" is not correct. It was Hindus killing Muslims and vice versa, the reader says, not a civil war.) from

Today's selection -- from Indian Summer by Alex Von Tunzelmann. The moment of India's 1947 independence from Britain and the accompanying partition of India sparked a civil war between Hindus and Muslims in which hundreds of thousands and perhaps even millions perished. In this partition, India was divided into two nations -- the Union of India and the Dominion of Pakistan (which is now the two countries of Pakistan and Bangladesh). As part of this division, millions of Muslims were relocated from the new India to Pakistan and millions of Hindus were relocated from the new Pakistan to India, a massive operation scarred by destruction and death. It was the largest mass migration in human history:

   "On a warm summer night in 1947, the largest empire the world has ever seen did something no empire had done before. It gave up. The British Empire did not decline, it simply fell; and it fell proudly and majestically onto its own sword. It was not forced out by revolution, nor defeated by a greater rival in battle. Its leaders did not tire or weaken. Its culture was strong and vibrant. Recently it had been victorious in the century's definitive war.
   "When midnight struck in Delhi on the night of 14 August 1947, a new, free Indian nation was born. In London, the time was 8:30 p.m. The world's capital could enjoy another hour or two of a warm sum­mer evening before the sun literally and finally set on the British Em­pire.
   "The Constituent Assembly of India was convened at that moment in New Delhi. ... Two thousand

Coming Out on Top

the Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey                                                              KW
Blue Mosque                                                  KW
Ever since I was lucky enough to see it in person a few years ago, I've thought that the ceiling of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul had to be the most breathtakingly beautiful ceiling in the world ~ but it doesn't even make the top ten in this list of beautiful ceilings (slideshow):

Prime Pattern

So there is a method to the madness! “ 'If there’s no interaction between primes, that’s what you would expect,' says [Stanford number theorist Kannan] Soundararajan. 'But in fact, something funny happens.' Despite each final digit appearing roughly the same amount of the time, there’s a bias in the order in which these final digits appear. A prime that ends in 7, for example, is far less likely to be followed by a prime that also ends in 7 than a prime that ends in 9, 3 or 1." Intriguing, yes, but here's my favorite part: "The discovery of the final digit bias has 'no conceivable practical use,' says Andrew Granville, a number theorist at the University of Montreal and University College London. 'The point is the wonder of the discovery' ":

Lights Out

Sydney, Australia, celebrates the event it started at a recent Earth Hour
"Earth Hour is a worldwide grassroots movement uniting people to protect the planet, and is organised by WWF. Engaging a massive mainstream community on a broad range of environmental issues, Earth Hour was famously started as a lights-off event in Sydney, Australia in 2007. Since then it has grown to engage more than 7000 cities and towns worldwide, and the one-hour event continues to remain the key driver of the now larger movement." This year, it is being celebrated on Saturday, March 19, from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m.:

The Power of Play

"A lack of understanding of the value of play is prompting parents and schools alike to reduce it as a priority, says Hanne Rasmussen, head of the Lego Foundation. If parents and governments push children towards numeracy and literacy earlier and earlier, it means they miss out on the early play-based learning that helps to develop creativity, problem-solving and empathy, she says":

The Green Scene

Trust mental floss to come up with St. Patrick's Day facts that, for the most part, are not that well-known. The first one: "We Should Really Wear Blue. St. Patrick himself would have [had] to deal with pinching on his feast day. His color was 'St. Patrick's blue,' a light shade. The color green only became associated with the big day after it was linked to the Irish independence movement in the late 18th century." Memorize these and impress and astound your new friends at the local pub:

Just Because: 'March Evening'

M.C. Escher
This poem is by Massachusetts poet Amy Lowell (1874-1925). Of herself and her talents, Lowell allegedly said, "God made me a businesswoman, and I made myself a poet." Together with Ezra Pound and others, she was a founder of the imagist movement in poetry, which broke from the poetry before it by focusing more on simple and straightforward description than on long philosophical musings. Over her lifetime, she wrote and published more than 650 poems. A collection of her work that was published posthumously won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1926.

Blue through the window burns the twilight;
   Heavy, through trees, blows the warm south wind.
Glistening, against the chill, gray sky light,
   Wet, black branches are barred and entwined.

Sodden and spongy, the scarce-green grass plot
   Dents into pools where a foot has been.
Puddles lie spilt in the road a mass, not
   Of water, but steel, with its cold, hard sheen.

Faint fades the fire on the hearth, its embers
   Scattering wide at a stronger gust.
Above, the old weathercock groans, but remembers
   Creaking, to turn, in its centuried rust.

Dying, forlorn, in dreary sorrow,
   Wrapping the mists round her withering form,
Day sinks down; and in darkness to-morrow
   Travails to birth in the womb of the storm.

North Korea's Titanic Try

"... Of all the pastiches [of the movie Titanic] that surfaced in popular culture, perhaps the most remarkable comes from North Korea, where the late dictator Kim Jong-il was inspired to make his own answer to the movie. Soul’s Protest, made some four years after Leo and Kate appeared on our screens, was a state-sponsored attempt by North Korea to ride the crest of Titanic’s glory and generate untold riches. But the film sank virtually without a trace at the box office despite boasting a cast of more than 10,000 extras, the first use of ‘state-of-the-art’ CGI in a North Korean feature film and a plotline that dramatised a disastrous naval ‘accident’ from Korea’s history" (story, videos):