all quick reads

Now You Know

"Neutral" Ground

The much-anticipated meeting between U.S. and Russian presidents will take place in a country known for its neutrality.
How did it earn that reputation?
The story of how Switzerland went from a nation of professional soldiers to a nation of peacemaking.

Now You Know

“Permanent neutrality is a principle of Swiss foreign policy. It is a generating source of peace and stability in Europe and beyond. It ensures the country’s independence and the inviolability of its territory."

Switzerland's Federal Dept. of Foreign Affairs describing its permanent neutrality principle. This long-standing principle emphasizes that Switzerland is to refrain from engaging in war, treat countries at odds with one another equally, and not supply military troops to countries in conflict.

Now You Know

Before Neutrality: The Middle Ages

  • Switzerland was not always a neutral territory. Throughout the Middle Ages, its mercenary forces (soldiers hired to serve in foreign armies) earned the Swiss a reputation for their military prowess - and in doing so, benefited its economy.
  • Problem #1: As warfare changed, Switzerland began losing battles in the early 1500s and lost their economic stability as a result.
  • Problem #2: Swiss soldiers grew weary of fighting each other in foreign wars.

Now You Know

The Shift: Congress of Vienna

  • Purpose: European countries met from 1814 to 1815 to help rebuild government order after the French Revolutionary War and Napoleonic Wars.
  • In both wars, the Swiss worked as mercenary soldiers; as a result, they found themselves at the center of debate and unable to choose sides.
  • The meeting declared Switzerland a neutral zone because of its strategic geographic location in Europe and history of fighting for different countries.

Now You Know

Modern Day Neutrality

  • Switzerland has (mostly) managed to maintain neutrality since their 1815 commitment.
  • Neutrality isn't without controversy. For example, Switzerland did not engage in combat in WWII but infamously participated in some financial dealings with Nazi Germany.
  • Switzerland still has a military (for defense purposes) but is NOT a member of NATO.
  • Switzerland is NOT part of the European Union (an economic and political union).

Now You Know

Leaders from around the world still meet in Switzerland because of the country's political neutrality. The spotlight once again falls on Geneva, known as "the capital of peace," for the meeting between Presidents Biden and Putin. Geneva is home to the UN's European headquarters, several international organizations (ex: World Health Organization), and numerous non-governmental organizations (ex: the International Red Cross).

Jun 16, 2021

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On This Day

June 14, 1777

The Continental Congress approves the design of the American flag.

The maker remains a mystery.

On This Day

The Final Resolution:

“… the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.”

The Continental Congress approved the official design of the national flag in 1777, during the Revolutionary War. Some suggest the British flag inspired the use of red, white and blue, though these colors came to represent virtues: purity, valor and perseverance.

On This Day

Who Made The First Flag?

  • It remains one of the great mysteries of American history.
  • Common lore suggests Betsy Ross, a seamstress in Philadelphia - the city where the Continental Congress met.
  • Surprisingly, no facts support or document this story, nor confirm a competing claim that a Congressman from New Jersey designed it.
  • Historians generally agree Ross likely knew Gen. Washington & sewed flags in her family’s shop.

On This Day

Pres. Woodrow Wilson proclaimed June 14th "Flag Day" in 1916, but it didn't become an official day until 1949 when Pres. Harry Truman signed it into law. Why does the flag get folded 13 times? Each fold has a meaning. Read more at "How To Properly Fold A Flag" on our source page.

Jun 14, 2021

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Quote of the Day

"I knew I had more to give to this sport for myself and I felt like I had a purpose and now, I feel like I do, and it's to be a voice for the younger generation ... I feel like God just called me."

Simone Biles

Quote of the Day

Simone Biles won a record seventh national women's all-around championship title in Fort Worth, TX (she hasn't lost an all-around event since 2013). With the Tokyo Olympics weeks away, Biles now heads into the Olympic Trials scheduled for the end of June. Biles recently said that she believes her purpose is bigger than competition - to be a voice and a force for change in gymnastics after a sexual abuse scandal.

Jun 13, 2021

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Quote of the Day

"Where there’s hope, there’s life. It fills us with fresh courage and makes us strong again."

Anne Frank

Quote of the Day

On June 12, 1942, Anne Frank received her famous diary for her 13th birthday. About a month later, her family went into hiding from the Nazis for 2 years in a secret annex over their business in Amsterdam. Shortly after Anne's death at a concentration camp, her diary was found in the annex by the people who had helped the Franks hide; they gave it to her father, the only surviving family member. He published the first version of her diary in 1947; it has since sold over 30 million copies in 70 languages.

Jun 12, 2021

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On This Day

June 10, 1752

Benjamin Franklin flies a kite during a thunderstorm.
How the founding father's experiment impacted modern science (and ignited myths along the way).

On This Day

“...Dr. Franklin, astonishing as it must have appeared, contrived actually to bring lightning from the heavens, by means of an electrical kite, which he raised when a storm of thunder was perceived to be coming on.”

Friend of Franklin and discoverer of oxygen, Joseph Priestly, in a 1767 account on the groundbreaking discovery using metal as a conductor for electrical charges - or, as he described it: "To demonstrate, in the completest manner possible, the sameness of the electric fluid with the matter of lightning..."

On This Day

A Long Time Coming

  • Franklin had been researching electricity & various hypotheses for years.
  • His original experiment was designed to occur on top of a church's steeple; he planned to attach iron rods to the top of the steeple to test for electrical charges.
  • However, the church's construction was taking too long. As a result, it occurred to him to build a kite suitable for testing electrical charges during a thunderstorm.

On This Day

The Spark

  • Materials: A kite made out of a silk handkerchief, hemp string, silk string, sharp wire, a Leyden jar (stores electrical charge for later use), & a metal house key.
  • Procedure: When the storm began, Franklin conducted the experiment from the ground using his newly-developed kite. With the help of his son, he flew the kite & discovered a spark when the kite drew electric charges.
  • Franklin's theory was solidified when the key, attached to the bottom of the kite, received a negative charge & shocked him.

On This Day

Truth vs. Myth

  • Franklin was not the first person to discover electricity. Scientists had already been working extensively with (static) electricity up to the point of the experiment.
  • His kite was not struck by lightning; rather, it collected the nearby electrical charge from the lightning.
  • Franklin's experiment was not the first to demonstrate the electrical nature of lightning. It was first tested a month beforehand in France, but Franklin had not heard of the findings until after his own experiment.

On This Day

Why it matters: This well-known experiment laid the groundwork for the lightning rod and helped develop a better understanding of positive and negative charges. It's just one of many inventions developed or inspired by Benjamin Franklin.

Jun 10, 2021

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Current Events

Historic Pace Enters Third Month

A record number of people, the highest in modern data-keeping, attempted to cross the U.S. southern border last month.
Here are the latest numbers.

Current Events

The Numbers: May 2021

  • Overall, 180,034 people attempted entry along the SW border - highest single-month number in approx. two decades.
  • May's overall figures are a slight increase (less than 1%) compared to April (178,000+).
  • May's figures reflect a 78% increase compared to February when the higher trend started, a 675% increase vs. May 2020 (w/borders closed due to COVID-19), and a 25% increase compared to May 2019 (the last record number of 144,000+ before the surge began this February).

Current Events

What Happens At The Border:

When someone is "encountered" and apprehended by U.S. Customs & Border Patrol:
  • Majority Expelled: 62% of the 180,000+, or roughly 111,000 people, were expelled.
  • Some Remain: Some remain in U.S. govt. custody (such as unaccompanied minors or those wanted for crimes).
  • Released: Others are processed (information taken by the U.S. govt.) and later released on bond or parole in the U.S. (e.g., those applying for asylum).

Current Events

A Notable Increase:

"The large number of expulsions during the pandemic has contributed to a larger-than-usual number of noncitizens making multiple border crossing attempts, and means total encounters somewhat overstate the number of unique individuals arriving at the border."

CBP says 38% (roughly 4 out of 10) people apprehended at the U.S. border had *at least one* previous encounter within the past year. This is *more than double* the average number of people attempting to cross the border after a previous attempt compared to 2014 to 2019.

Current Events

A Notable Decline:

The number of unaccompanied minors (those 17 and younger traveling without a parent or legal guardian) declined compared to previous months, but is still a 19% increase from the last record number in May 2019.

Jun 10, 2021

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Current Events

Unaccompanied Children & The COVID-19 Vaccine

As the surge in border crossings continues, here's a look at how the govt. is caring for minors taken into custody during the pandemic.

Current Events

Background:

  • Some minors (17 years and younger) come to the U.S. alongside a parent or legal guardian, but most arrive *alone* or with a person the govt. deems unsafe (ex: trafficker, smuggler).
  • “Unaccompanied children” (UC) is what the govt. calls minors without lawful immigration status *and* no U.S. parent or legal guardian *available* to provide care and custody.
  • NOTE: UC were previously referred to by the govt. as UAC (unaccompanied alien children).

Current Events

What To Know:

  • The govt. apprehends those crossing the border illegally and must transfer UC w/in 72 hours to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), part of the Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS).
  • HHS is legally obligated to promptly place UC "in the least restrictive setting that is in the best interest of the child." As their legal status is sorted out (ex: applying for asylum), the govt. places *most* UC with “sponsors” (usually parents or close relatives living in the U.S.); others remain in ORR facilities.

Current Events

UC Care & Custody:

  • In addition to being responsible for UC's safety, housing, and education, ORR is also responsible for providing medical services.
  • UC are screened for evident health issues (ex: lice, scabies) when they're apprehended.
  • UC w/o proof of certain vaccines (ex: mumps, measles, rubella, chickenpox) typically receive those vaccines while in ORR's care.
  • After last month's authorization of the Pfizer COVID vaccine for minors as young as 12, HHS updated its guidance concerning vaccinating eligible children.

Current Events

"The law is clear about our need to make sure kids are safe and that their wellbeing needs are met ... ORR has always provided needed vaccinations for all children in our care and custody, and we are working site by site to ensure that the COVID vaccine is also made available as part of that suite of medical care to every eligible child.”

Acting Asst. Secretary for the HHS Administration for Children & Families, JooYeun Chang, on the newly updated HHS guidance concerning vaccinating eligible children.

Current Events

UNKNOWNS

  • It's not clear when ORR began administering COVID vaccines to UC in their care.
  • On June 9, the Acting Asst. Secretary for the HHS Administration for Children & Families said "hundreds" of children in Texas facilities have received a COVID vaccine.
  • ORR pays for the medical care and screenings for UC. It hasn't released any information regarding how much it costs to administer vaccines to UC, but Pfizer's vaccines cost the U.S. about $19.50 per dose.

Current Events

Some have raised concerns about consent, citing state laws (which generally require parental consent for vaccines unless a minor is living apart from their parent or legal guardian), and question whether the govt. - tasked with acting in the best interests of the children in their care and custody - should make the decision about whether these minors should receive the COVID-19 vaccine authorized by the FDA for emergency use.

Jun 10, 2021

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On This Day

June 9, 1973

A horse with a mighty heart (in more ways than one) becomes the "year's greatest show in sports," racing right into history.
Here's the story of Secretariat.

On This Day

What To Know:

  • Secretariat (name inspired by a secretary) was described as an "amiable, gentlemanly colt, with a poised and playful nature."
  • Secretariat won the most prominent accomplishment in horse racing - the Triple Crown - by winning the sport's top three events: the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and then the Belmont Stakes.
  • Secretariat broke records in all three races. He holds the fastest times in each event to this day.

On This Day

"Secretariat suddenly transcended horse racing and became a cultural phenomenon, a sort of undeclared national holiday from the tortures of Watergate and the Vietnam War."

Sports journalist William Nack, author of Secretariat: The Making of a Champion, describing another reason why the public responded so favorably to Secretariat's record-breaking victories. Context: Watergate (1972 - 1974) and the Vietnam War (1955 - 1975).

On This Day

"That's when I had tears in my eyes ... When he was coming down through the stretch ... all I was saying was, 'Don't fall down, boy. Come home.' It looked like he heard me."

Secretariat's groom, Eddie Sweat, who cared for Secretariat daily, recalled watching the Belmont Stakes on June 9th - the day Secretariat became one of only 13 horses who have ever won the Triple Crown. The races that make up this competition date back to 1875.

On This Day

Although a champion, Secretariat suffered from a common affliction (laminitis: a hoof disease that causes severe pain) and had to be put down. The veterinarian who performed Secretariat's autopsy found his heart to be twice the size of a normal horse, weighing an estimated 22 lbs: "I think it told us why he was able to do what he did," Dr. Thomas Swerczek said.

Jun 9, 2021

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Current Events

RACE FOR IMMUNITY

A familiar storyline:
those vaccinated vs. those not.
But how do those who had COVID-19 figure into the debate?
What To Know & Why It Matters

Current Events

BIG PICTURE:

Beware: No Definitive Answers - Studies on the immunity of vaccinated individuals *and* those who had COVID-19 are limited and ongoing.
  • An estimated 33 million Americans have tested positive for COVID-19; health officials believe the true number is likely higher due to asymptomatic cases.
  • 140+ million Americans have received a full vaccine dose. That amounts to more than 50% of the eligible population (12 & older), including more than 75% of those 65 & older.

Current Events

"The risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19 far outweighs any benefits of natural immunity."

On the CDC's website page "Benefits of Getting a COVID-19 Vaccine," it says reinfection "is uncommon in the months after initial infection, but may increase with time." Health officials believe the vaccine offers a more robust immune response and greater protection against variants. A new CDC study suggests those who received an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine (Pfizer, Moderna) had a reduced relative risk of infection of more than 90%.

Current Events

"It’s time to stop the fear mongering and level with the public about the incredible capabilities of both modern medical research and the human body’s immune system."

Dr. Marty Makary, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, says there is "ample scientific evidence that natural immunity is effective and durable" to COVID-19 and believes for someone previously infected, "one shot (COVID-19 vaccine) is sufficient, and maybe not even necessary, although it could increase the long-term durability of immunity."

Current Events

Something To Consider:

  • The Dept. of Health in Austin, Texas says an obstacle to community immunity includes those previously infected with COVID not prioritizing receiving the vaccine; concern remains about transmission and variants.
  • A preprint study by the Cleveland Clinic: "Individuals who have had SARS-CoV-2 infection are unlikely to benefit from COVID-19 vaccination, and vaccines can be safely prioritized to those who have not been infected before."

Current Events

A question shared by those vaccinated and those not vaccinated but with prior infection - the strength and length of immunity and ability to transmit the virus. Remember: the very first COVID-19 vaccine administered in the U.S. outside of a clinical trial was Dec. 14, 2020. Meanwhile, clinical trials remain ongoing for the next several years regardless of the emergency use authorization received by Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson.

Jun 8, 2021

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Current Events

"First of Its Kind"

A "potential blockbuster" halting a thief of time, or an imposter of hope?
The FDA approves the first treatment for treating what some believe is the cause of Alzheimer's, not just the symptoms. So why did some of the FDA's experts recommend against its approval?
Here's what to know.

Current Events

What It Is:

  • The Treatment: aducanumab (add-yoo-CAN-yoo-mab)
  • Context: Alzheimer's disrupts memory and other brain functions. It remains a mystery as to why someone might develop the disease. One theory: naturally-occurring proteins can clump together, causing "plaque" that disrupts brain function.
  • What Does It Do? This antibody treatment breaks apart this plaque; *however,* some question whether that alone will help improve symptoms of the disease.

Current Events

Details

  • Cost: Out-of-pocket expense may be $10,000 or higher; also requires a brain scan - which may not be covered by insurance - to see if a patient has early evidence of the plaque.
  • Logistics: Administered by doctors as a monthly infusion, rather than the ease of a pill prescribed at a pharmacy.
  • Potential Side Effects: Brain-bleed, swelling. Extensive monitoring recommended.
  • Limited Use: For those with early symptoms.

Current Events

“There’s so little evidence for effectiveness. I don’t know what caught the FDA’s fancy here.”

Dir. of the California Alzheimer's Disease Center at the University of Southern California, Dr. Lon Schneider, who helped conduct trials for aducanumab. The drug received "accelerated approval" without final trials completed. Initially manufacturer Biogen stopped trials, with concerns the treatment did not work - only to later realize patients receiving high doses showed slower cognitive decline than others; some say the benefits do not outweigh the risks, costs, and questions.

Current Events

“Currently available therapies only treat symptoms of the disease; this treatment option is the first therapy to target and affect the underlying disease process of Alzheimer’s. As we have learned from the fight against cancer, the accelerated approval pathway can bring therapies to patients faster while spurring more research and innovation.”

FDA's Dr. Patrizia Cavazzoni on accelerated approval for "serious or life-threatening illness that provides a meaningful therapeutic advantage over existing treatments."

Current Events

The Hope Factor: One man, whose wife suffers from Alzheimer's and participates in a trial for this experimental treatment, says, "Before we got into the clinical trial, there was this fear of what lay ahead. The medical component of the infusion gives us the basis for hope." An estimated 1 in 10 Americans over the age of 65 will suffer from Alzheimer's dementia.

Jun 7, 2021

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On This Day

June 6, 1944

Why D-Day Matters

On This Day

Turned The Tide of WWII

  • Strategy: Invade German-occupied France by air & sea, weaken the Nazis, & take back Europe.
  • Results: Through brutal fighting, "the Allies" successfully invaded enemy territory, a catalyst for the beginning of the end for the Germans (at no small cost).
  • Just A Note: The "Allies" referenced on D-Day mainly refers to U.S., English, & Canadian soldiers, though many other countries combated Nazi Germany.

On This Day

Largest Air, Land, Sea Military Operation Ever

  • More than 2.8M soldiers fought to liberate Europe at that time, about half were Americans.
  • "Allies" = America, UK, Canada, joined by Australian, Belgian, Czech, Dutch, French, Greek, New Zealand, Norwegian, Rhodesian, & Polish forces.
  • 150,000+ soldiers participated in the D-Day invasion.

On This Day

Why "Utah" & "Omaha"

  • Invasion took place on 5 Normandy beaches: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, & Sword; Americans took Utah & Omaha; Brits & Canadians took the rest.
  • Germans had superior fire power, experience, & position, but the Allies convinced the Nazis to hold back some resources for another invasion elsewhere which never occurred.

On This Day

"You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you...We will accept nothing less than full Victory!"


Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, June 6, 1944

On This Day

The "D" in "D-Day"

  • "D-Day" doesn't refer to "death" or destruction despite the many wounded & killed in action.
  • The military uses generic "D-Day" for the day an operation launches.
  • Total # of Allies killed in action in one day remains a mystery: est = 4,400 (est. 2,500 U.S. fatalities).
  • Context: 2,400+ Americans have died serving in Afghanistan in nearly two-decades.

On This Day

"The worst part of that was sitting in the channel waiting to go in, because the German shells were landing pretty close. We never took a direct strike. We were pretty lucky. What was going through my mind was, what were we going to get into?"

Jasper Madonia, now 100-years-old, reflecting on landing at Utah Beach, Normandy, France on D-Day, 1944. He served as part of the U.S. Army Fourth Division Infantry. Madonia reflected on his military service & those lost: "God had his hand on me, I guess."

On This Day

For many soldiers, D-Day was just the beginning of a long string of battles that eventually led to the liberation of Europe, forever altering its future.

We put two accounts of survivors, both young men on that day, on our source page. The U.S. government estimates that there are fewer than 1,000 survivors of D-Day still alive today.

Jun 6, 2021

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On This Day

102 Years Ago Today

Congress passes the 19th amendment granting women the right to vote, a result of decades of activism.
How did suffragists *finally* change the public's mind?
Here's one unique strategy you may recognize - an "influencer" campaign.

On This Day

The Fight For The Vote

  • The women's voting movement (aka "women's suffrage") began in the 1800s.
  • 41 years after it was first introduced, Congress passed the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing women the right to vote.
  • One year, two months & two weeks later, the necessary three-fourths of the states ratified the 19th Amendment, officially adding it to the Constitution.
  • Wyoming was first to ratify (the state granted women the right to vote in 1870), Tennessee was the last.

On This Day

Name To Know: Sojourner Truth

  • Born in 1797 & enslaved until 1826 in NY.
  • Magnetic speaker who promoted civil rights & women's rights.
  • Her strategy: Inspired by Fredrick Douglas, she began selling her photographed portrait on small, inexpensive cards. Similar to baseball cards, people exchanged & collected the cards.
  • The significance: By providing an image of herself, Truth influenced how people saw her & countered racist & sexist cartoons with other imagery.

On This Day

The Strategy Continues

  • Inspired by Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony distributed portraits of herself & other suffragists on cards, in papers & beyond.
  • She requested & managed portraits of suffragists, giving instructions for their pose, & asking for the “best eyes,” & “best hair."
  • Why portraits? To personalize the mission & influence public opinion; to provide visualization of strong female leaders & counteract the cartoons that mocked suffragists.

On This Day

“When we shall have our amendment [for woman suffrage] . . . everybody will think it was always so . . . They have no idea of how every single inch of ground that she stands upon today has been gained by the hard work of some little handful of women of the past.”

Susan B. Anthony, 1894. To continue their storytelling of women's suffrage, Anthony & other prominent leaders compiled portraits & stories, published in six volumes of the History of Woman Suffrage - each volume has approximately 1,000 pages.

On This Day

While the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote in 1920, it wasn't until 1965 that the Voting Rights Act was passed, which ended discriminatory practices (ex: literacy tests) that discouraged or prevented Black Americans from voting in federal elections.

Jun 4, 2021

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