Thursday, February 25, 2010

Indianapolis 500

The roar of 33 high-powered engines fills the air. Around the track, the cheers of 300,000 fans mix with the thunderous sounds of straining motors. Finally, after 500 miles of grueling, heart-pounding racing, one driver crosses the finish line as the winner of the world’s greatest autorace: the Indianapolis 500.

The first Indy 500 was run in 1911, just two years after former racer Carl Fisher built the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. At that time, many states were outlawing road races because bigger, faster cars made auto racing dangerous. Fisher built a 2.5-mile oval track where carmakers could more safely test new cars and racers could compete for prizes. The first Indy was won by Ray Harroun, whose average speed was 74.5 miles an hour.

Today, high-tech Indy cars, which cost up to $300,000, race around the oval at speeds averaging 160 miles per hour. Driving such fast cars requires quick reflexes, a steady hand, strong nerves, endurance, and more than just a little luck. But winning the Indy 500 guarantees a driver’s place in the history books, as well as racing’s largest prize. The record for most Indianapolis 500 victories – four – is shared by three drivers: Al Unser, A.J. Foyt, and Rick Mears.

In its early days, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was paved with 3.2 million bricks. Today, Indy 500 driver’s race on an asphalt surface.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Great White Fleet

On December 16, 1907, thousands of cheering spectators jammed the shoreline of Hampton Roads, Virginia. They had come out to watch 16 snow-white battleships set sail on a historic around-the-world voyage.

The cruise of this Great White Fleet was President Theodore Roosevelt’s idea. He believed that the United States should “speak softly and carry a big stick.” He wanted all nations to know that the United States had become a mightly power. Because Japan was acting aggressively in the Pacific, Roosevelt was especially anxious to convince the Japanese that any attack on the Philippine Islands or other American territories would be a serious mistake.

The Great White Fleet’s mission was a huge success. The ships and their crews were welcomed enthusiastically everywhere, even in Japan. The impressive display of strength discouraged Japan from acting against American interests in the pacific and the United States was recognized throughout the world as a major naval power.

The Great White Fleet sailed more than 46,000 miles on its 14-month cruise.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Wordless: Touro Synagogue

This is an image from the inside of Touro Synagogue located in Newport, Rhode Island.

It is the oldest existing US synagogue.

Jewish immigrants escaping persecution from Spain and Portugal came to Rhode Island in 1658.

Visit the main page for the synagogue here

Other bloggers are participating in Wordless Wednesday. You can find them here

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Founding of the Boy Scouts

On a visit to London in 1909, Chicago publisher William D. Boyce became lost in a heavy fog. An English Boy Scout helped him to find his way. The Scout told Boyce about the Boy Scout movement, founded in England just a year earlier by army officer Robert Baden-Powell. Boyce returned home and founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. The new group adopted Baden-Powell’s motto, “Be prepared,” and his slogan, “Do a Good Turn Daily.”

Today the Boy Scouts of America have almost 4 ½ million members in five divisions: Cubs, Tigers, Webelos, Scouts, and Explorers. To become an Eagle Scout, the highest rank in scouting, a young man must have earned at least 21 merit badges. The organization’s goal is to improve its members’ self-confidence and competence and to foster leaders and good citizens. The program includes instruction and skillbuilding in a wide variety of fields, ranging from first aid to ecology. Members earn merit badges for their accomplishments in special fields, and thereby advance through the scouting ranks.

Camping and outdoor skills have always been important aspects of scouting. Every four years Boy Scouts from more than 100 nations gather for a giant camp-out known as the International Jamboree.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Amy Tan

In Amy Tan’s novel, The Joy Luck Club, a group of Chinese-American women meets regularly to play mah-jongg, a Chinese game played with small ivory tiles. The women all came to the U.S. from China years earlier, and have kept their Chinese traditions. Their old-fashioned ways embarrass the book’s heroine, the grown daughter of one of the women. Above all, she wants to be American. But as the women tell their touching and often tragic stories of their lives, the daughter begins to understand and appreciate her Chinese heritage.

Amy Tan’s Chinese given name, An-mei, means “blessing from America.”

The story is close to Tan’s own experience. Her parents come to California from China, and she grew up with many of the same conflicts faced by the young heroine of the book. Tan’s parents wanted her to have a successful live in American, but they hoped she would think of herself as Chinese. As a girl, Tan wanted only to blend into American society, but when she began to write stories in the mid-1980s, she brought her two worlds together. Her personal experiences enabled her to write movingly about the relationships between immigrant parents of their children.

The Joy Luck Club, Tan’s first novel, was a surprise best-seller in 1989 and later a successful movie. Her second book, The Kitchen God’s Wife, was also successful. And in 1995 she was back on the best-seller list with The Hundred Secret Senses, a novel about a Chinese-American woman and her Chinese half sister.