Catalonia votes on separation from Spain

On October 1, a vote was held in the Catalonia region of Spain to decide if the area should become an independent nation or not. The voting was supported by the government of Catalonia. The national government of Spain was against the voting and called it illegal. Spain’s government even tried to stop it by sending police officers. This led to some violence, but the voting did take place. About 90% of the people who voted want the region to be a separate country.

Spain is split into 17 autonomous regions (one being Catalonia) and 2 autonomous cities. “Autonomous” means that each region is allowed to handle some of its own matters. Catalonia is the region in the north-eastern part of Spain. It borders France and Andorra in the north, and the Mediterranean Sea to its east. The capital of the region is Barcelona, Spain’s second largest city after its capital city, Madrid. The population of Catalonia is about 7.5 million. The region has its own government, language, customs, and traditions. The region generates a lot of money for Spain. Catalans have held many demonstrations in the past to separate from Spain and establish their own nation.

On October 10, Catalonia’s president said that the region does have the right to separate, but further conversations with the national government should be held to discuss the matter. The prime minister of Spain, Mariano Rajoy (image), responded by saying that the voting was illegal. He has also asked Catalonia’s president to make it clear whether his government is making a declaration of independence or not. That’s where the situation stands right now.

Catalonia is known for many things including the football club called FC Barcelona based in Barcelona. One of Catalonia’s famous architects is Antoni Gaudí. His church called the Sagrada Família (image) is a landmark of Barcelona. Another very famous Catalan is Joan Miró, a painter and sculptor. Catalans have a tradition of building human towers called “castells”. The region holds a competition every two years for building castells called Concurs de Castells. Here is a video from last year’s Concurs de Castells and another about this news story.


Image Credits: http://www.lamoncloa.gob.es for the image of Rajoy and the map of Spain, http://www.catalangovernment.eu for the image of the election results, Bernard Gagnon for the image of Sagrada Família
Sources: Newsy, BBC, http://www.lamoncloa.gob.es, CIA World Factbook, https://www.britannica.com, https://twitter.com/catalangov

2017 Nobel Prizes

The 2017 Nobel Prizes were recently awarded. The Nobel Prize is an international award that is given every year to individuals who have made a discovery that significantly impacts mankind. The awards are given in the fields of Physiology or Medicine, Chemistry, Physics, Economics, Literature, and Peace. It is one of the highest honors an individual can receive in each of these fields.

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine went to Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash, and Michael Young (all born in USA) for their discoveries that explain how humans and other living things adapt to the changes in a day. Our planet revolves around its axis, and we have day and night. These scientists figured out a gene that controls the daily biological clock which regulates our sleep patterns, feeding behavior, body temperature, and so on.

The Nobel Prize in Physics went to Rainer Weiss (born in Germany), Barry Barish (born in USA), and Kip Thorne (born in USA) for their work that led to the observation of gravitational waves. In 2015, for the first time ever, scientists detected gravitational waves that were predicted by Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity in 1915 (that’s a hundred years ago). The waves that were observed were generated when two black holes collided and merged 1.3 billion years ago.

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry went to Jacques Dubochet (born in Switzerland), Joachim Frank (born in Germany), and Richard Henderson (born in the UK) for the development of cryo-electron microscopy. This technique allows scientists to freeze molecules during movement, and visualize the processes that are going on. This has helped gain knowledge about the basic materials of life.

Kazuo Ishiguro (born in Japan) won the Nobel Prize in Literature. He is an author and has written 8 novels in English and other works. Some of his famous books are “The Remains of the Day” and “The Buried Giant”.



Richard Thaler (born in USA) won the Nobel Prize for Economics for his work in explaining how people’s economic decisions are based on their psychology. He has shown three traits that impact a person’s financial decision making – limited rationality, social preferences, and lack of self-control. His work has had an impact on economic policies.

The organization International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) won the Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts to prevent the use of nuclear weapons and to remind us of the consequences of using such weapons. Nuclear weapons can cause tremendous amounts of destruction to all life on our planet. ICAN has worked with nations around the globe to come up with international agreements that help the world get rid of these weapons. There are almost 15,000 nuclear weapons on our planet and all are owned by 9 countries (United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea). ICAN is a coalition of non-governmental organizations in one hundred countries, and was officially launched in 2007.

The Nobel Prizes were started by Alfred Nobel, a Swedish businessman, chemist, and inventor. Nobel was born in 1833 in Stockholm, the capital of Sweden. He studied chemistry. He wanted to create an explosive that could be used to blast rock while doing construction work. In 1867, he invented dynamite. That invention made him very rich. He died on December 10, 1896, and in his will, he left a chunk of his wealth to be used for rewarding people who do work to help mankind. This led to the creation of the Nobel Prizes in 1901.

Here are 3 videos. The first explains the physics award, the second the chemistry award. The last is about Alfred Nobel.





Did you know?

The Ig Nobel Prizes are given out each year in the United States for ten unusual or trivial achievements in scientific research. The aim of the prizes is to “honor achievements that make people laugh, and then think.” Here are some of the prizes awarded this year in September.

The Economics Prize was given for “experiments to see how contact with a live crocodile affects a person’s willingness to gamble”.

The Physics Prize was given for “using fluid dynamics to probe the question – Can a Cat Be Both a Solid and a Liquid?”

The Anatomy Prize was given for “a medical research study on why old men have big ears”.

The Fluid Dynamics Prize was for “studying the dynamics of liquid-sloshing, to learn what happens when a person walks backwards while carrying a cup of coffee”.

The Peace Prize was given for “demonstrating that regular playing of a didgeridoo is an effective treatment for obstructive sleep apnoea and snoring”.

And there were more!

Image Credits: N. Elmehed. © Nobel Media 2017 for Ishiguro’s image, Martin Högbom, The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for the chemistry prize image, Johan Jarnestad/The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for the physics prize image, https://www.nobelprize.org for the medicine prize image, N. Elmehed. © Nobel Media AB 2017 for the economic prize image, http://www.icanw.org for the ICAN logo, https://www.nobelprize.org for Nobel’s image and for the Nobel Prize logo
Sources: https://www.improbable.com, https://www.nobelprize.org, http://www.icanw.org, Biography, Tech Insider

Qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA Soccer World Cup

Iceland became the smallest country (by population) to qualify for the FIFA Soccer World Cup. The tournament will take place in Russia in June/July 2018. Iceland beat Kosovo in a qualification match for the World Cup. Iceland is an island nation with a population of about 330,000.

The United States won’t be taking part in the World Cup next year. It lost to Trinidad and Tobago in the qualifier. This was the first time since 1986 that the United States did not qualify for the World Cup. Population of the United States? Add 3 more zeros to Iceland’s population – about 330,000,000.

The World Cup is one of the most popular sporting events in the world, and is held every four years. To see which countries can play, qualification soccer matches are played before the actual World Cup games. Out of 209 teams, 32 will be selected to take part in the World Cup. The host Russia is qualified automatically, which leaves 31 teams to be picked. So far, 23 teams have qualified. Here is a link that shows the qualifying teams, and here is a video about the Soccer World Cup.

Image Credits: http://www.fifa.com for the logo of the Soccer World Cup and the image of the Iceland winning team
Sources: http://www.fifa.com, http://www.worldometers.info, FOX Soccer

Shooting in Las Vegas

On October 1, a man shot at people attending an outdoor country music festival in Las Vegas, USA. Stephen Paddock, a 64-year old American, was staying in a room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel. He broke the window in his room and started shooting at people attending the concert. Over 500 people were injured and over 50 were killed, making it the deadliest shooting in recent US history. He killed himself before the police broke into his room. His motives are still unknown.

Las Vegas is a resort city in the state of Nevada. It is known for its hotels, gambling, entertainment, nightlife, and restaurants. You can find a hotel with canals that makes you feel as if you are in Venice (The Venetian). There is another that looks like a pyramid from Egypt (Luxor). There is one with the statue of liberty in front of it (New York New York). You can ride the world’s tallest observation wheel (The High Roller).

Image Credits: Phoenix7777 and Wikipedia for the image of the Las Vegas shooting map
Sources: https://www.venetian.com, https://www.luxor.com, https://www.newyorknewyork.com, https://www.caesars.com, CNN

Fight at Uganda’s parliament

A fight broke out amongst lawmakers at a parliament meeting in Kampala, the capital of Uganda. It wasn’t just a verbal fight, but a physical fight as well. Opposing parties whacked each other, and even used microphones to hit each other with. The discussion was about whether or not to change the age limit for a presidential candidate. According to Uganda’s constitution, no one older than 75 years of age can run for the post of president. The current president, Yoweri Museveni, is 73 years old. The next elections are in 2021, which means that he cannot be the president again. However, if the age limit is removed, he can stand for the next elections. He has been the president since 1986.

A Ugandan girl has risen to fame for her game of chess. Phiona Mutesi (20 years old) was born into a very poor family living in the slums of Kampala. She dropped out of school at the age of 9 and sold maize to earn money for her family. Mutesi was exposed to the game of chess, and she played so well that she went on to represent Uganda at chess olympiads.  A movie has been made by Disney based on her life story. The movie is called Queen of Katwe. Here are two videos, one is showing the brawl, and the other is a movie trailer for Queen of Katwe.


Image Credits: U.S. Department of State for the image of Museveni, http://www.parliament.go.ug for the parliament meeting image, http://movies.disney.com for the image of Queen of Katwe
Sources: http://www.telegraph.co.uk, http://movies.disney.com, https://www.theguardian.com

A bit more news

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the obesity rates in children and teenagers aged 5 to 19 years have shot up around the globe in the last 40 years. In 1975, about 5 million girls and 6 million boys were obese. In 2016, about 50 million girls and 74 million boys are obese.


Coach, Inc., an American luxury accessories and fashion company, announced that it was changing its company name to Tapestry, Inc.. The company owns the brands Coach, Stuart Weitzman, and Kate Spade.


The Oxford English Dictionary recently added new words to its online dictionary. Here is a list of all the new words that were added.


Wildfires have been burning in northern areas of the state of California, USA. The fires started on October 8 and are still raging. Firefighters are working to get them under control. Thousands of people have fled their homes. Many buildings have burnt down. The region is famous for its wineries, and many have been destroyed.

Here is a video about the California fires and another about obesity.

Image Credits: http://www.obesityday.worldobesity.org for the obesity image, http://public.oed.com for OED’s logo, http://www.tapestry.com for its logo, Bureau of Land Management for the fire image
Sources: WHO, http://public.oed.com, http://www.tapestry.com, TRT World, NPR, TedEd

Elections in Germany

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s political party has won the most votes (about 33 percent of the votes) in Germany’s general elections. This means that she’ll be Chancellor of Germany for a fourth term. However, her party didn’t win enough votes to govern alone. She will need to work with some of the other political parties to form a government. The German Chancellor is the country’s head of government.


Merkel has been the Chancellor since 2005. She is 63-years old, and had worked as a scientist before she got into politics. Forbes, an American magazine, listed her as the “world’s most powerful woman”, and as the “world’s third most powerful person” in 2016. She even has a barbie doll modeled after her. She is often seen with her hands in front of her with the fingertips touching. The hand gesture has been given the name of “Merkel-Raute” (or Merkel diamond), and is represented by the emoticon <>.

Germany is famous for its castles, cars, cuckoo clocks, composers, fairy tales, black forest cake, and much more! It has given the world some of the most famous automobile brands – BMW, Mercedes Benz, Audi, and Volkswagen. Famous composers – Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Johannes Brahms – were all born in Germany. Albert Einstein, one of the world’s greatest scientists, was also born in Germany. You’ve probably heard of Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and Hansel and Gretel. The Brothers Grimm wrote all these fairy tales, after hearing stories from different people.

After World War II, Germany had split into two countries, German Democratic Republic (East Germany) and Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). Even the city of Berlin was split between the two new nations. East and West Germany became one nation again in 1990, 41 years after their separation.

Here is a video about Merkel, and another about the Barbie doll modeled after her.

Did you know?

An unexploded bomb left over from World War II was discovered in Frankfurt, Germany. About 60,000 people were evacuated so that the experts could safely defuse the bomb on September 3 this year.

Did you know?

The gummy bear candy was invented in Germany by Hans Riegel Sr. in 1922.

Image Credits: Armin Linnartz for the image of Merkel and her hands, Voicebylinda for the image of East and West Germany, https://www.globalcarsbrands.com for the car brand logo image
Sources: BBC, NowThisWorld, https://www.theguardian.com, https://www.indy100.com, http://www.germany.travel, https://www.globalcarsbrands.com, http://www.pitt.edu, http://haribo.bg

Longer tweets

Ever felt that you couldn’t say all that you had to in a single 140-character tweet? Well, Twitter is increasing a tweet’s character count in some languages, such as English, to 280. That’s double!

Why not all languages? According to Twitter, the same idea can be expressed in fewer characters in some languages, for example, Japanese, but requires more characters in other languages, for example, English. Twitter will increase the character count for the languages where it feels people struggle to convey their thoughts in 140 characters. The increase in number of characters is currently being made for a small group of users.

Twitter is a news and social networking service with its headquarters in San Francisco, California, USA. Its CEO is Jack Dorsey (image). The Twitter account with the most followers is of Katy Perry @katyperry with over 100,000,000.



Image Credits: https://twitter.com for Twitter’s image, Andrew Mager for Jack Dorsey’s image
Sources: https://blog.twitter.com

Women will be able to drive in Saudi Arabia

The king of Saudi Arabia has issued an official order to allow women to drive starting June next year. This will be the first time that women will be able to drive in the country. Currently, if a woman is found driving, she is either fined or put into jail. Saudi Arabia is the only nation in the world that bans women from driving.


Women don’t have the same rights as men in the country. There are a bunch of “cannot dos” for women. However, the country has been making changes in recent years. In 2012, Saudi Arabia sent women for the first time to take part in the Olympic Games (image). Women were allowed to vote and stand in the local election for the first time in 2015.  As of this month, women were allowed to go into a sports stadium. Physical education classes will soon be offered to girls at public schools.

Most women still cannot leave the country, get a job, marry, or divorce without the permission of their male guardian (who is their father, husband, brother, or son). When women go outside their homes, they are required to cover their bodies and head with a veil, usually black in color.

Saudi Arabia is a monarchy, where the leader of the country is the king. King Salman (image) is the current king. Various tribes ruled the area that is today called Saudi Arabia. Abdulaziz Al-Saud conquered and united the tribes and formed the modern nation of Saudi Arabia in 1932, becoming the first king. He is believed to have had over 30 sons and about 20 wives. All the kings after him have been his sons, including the current king.

The capital of Saudi Arabia is Riyadh and the official language is Arabic. All Saudis follow the religion of Islam. In fact, non-Muslims cannot have Saudi citizenship. Saudi Arabia is governed according to Islamic law. The country has a special police force that makes sure that the laws of the religion are followed.

Here is a video about women driving in Saudi Arabia.

Did you know?

Saudi Arabia is the largest country in the world without a river.

Image Credits: https://www.saudi.gov.sa for King Salman’s image, https://www.saudi.gov.sa for the image of the flag, Youtube Screenshot/Middle East Monitor and https://www.commondreams.org for the image of the Saudi woman driving, http://olympics.al-monitor.com for Attar’s image
Sources: https://www.saudi.gov.sa, New York Times, Huffington Post, http://www.pbs.org

Berlin Marathon 2017

The Berlin Marathon 2017 took place on September 24 with 43,852 runners from 137 countries in Berlin, the capital of Germany. The race distance was 42.195 km (26.2 miles). The winner of the women’s race was Gladys Cherono (Kenya) with a time of 2 hours 20 minutes 23 seconds. The winner of the men’s race was Eliud Kipchoge (Kenya) with a time of 2 hours 3 minutes 32 seconds. You can watch the marathon highlights here.


Image Credits: https://www.bmw-berlin-marathon.com for the Berlin Marathon image
Sources: https://www.bmw-berlin-marathon.com