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Where Did the Peace Symbol Come From?

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There are lots of symbols for peace: the dove, the olive branch, the v-shaped hand gesture. Unlike those first two, however, the peace symbol -- the wearing of which these days seems more a fashion statement than a political one -- is of much more recent vintage. Here's how it came about.

It was 1958. Worldwide concern over nuclear stockpiling and total annihilation was growing, and the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (one of many such groups, albeit the only one headed by a prominent philosopher, namely Bertrand Russell) was getting ready for a big protest at Canterbury Cathedral. They wanted a symbol of their own they could wear as a badge, and hired a British graphic artist named Gerald Holtom to create one. After experimenting with designs involving a Christian cross inside a circle, he created the now-famous "crow's foot" design.

semaphores.jpgThe crow's foot has been a symbol for death and despair since ancient times, which seemed a not-unfitting reminder of the disarmament movement goal -- stop governments from nuking us into death and/or the stone age. But Holtom's peace symbol also had a more literal meaning hidden within: it contained the semaphoric shapes for the letters "N" and "D" ("nuclear disarmament" -- seen at left). Semaphores are a means of visual communication at a distance using the arms or a pair of flags.

Holtom later elaborated on his creative process in an interview: "I was in despair. Deep despair. I drew myself: the representative of an individual in despair, with hands palm outstretched outwards and downwards in the manner of Goya's peasant before the firing squad. I formalised the drawing into a line and put a circle round it." Here's that painting:
goya.jpg

The circle, of course, has lots of meanings, among them eternity and the unborn child. Once Holtom's symbol had been adopted not only by the group he designed it for, but the anti-war movement as a whole a few years later, the right wing got ahold of it and created their own set of interpretations. The John Birch Society, for instance, claimed that it was the Antichrist's "broken cross," purportedly devised by Nero as a nasty way to execute Saint Peter. Others claimed it was a medieval symbol for the devil, and that it bore a striking resemblance to a Nazi badge used during WWII.

Thanks to Cecil Adams for his fine research, who also pointed out that the Birch Society has tried to "re-brand" the peace symbol thusly:
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science
6 Radiant Facts About Irène Joliot-Curie
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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Though her accomplishments are often overshadowed by those of her parents, the elder daughter of Marie and Pierre Curie was a brilliant researcher in her own right.

1. SHE WAS BORN TO, AND FOR, GREATNESS.

A black and white photo of Irene and Marie Curie in the laboratory in 1925.
Irène and Marie in the laboratory, 1925.
Wellcome Images, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 4.0

Irène’s birth in Paris in 1897 launched what would become a world-changing scientific dynasty. A restless Marie rejoined her loving husband in the laboratory shortly after the baby’s arrival. Over the next 10 years, the Curies discovered radium and polonium, founded the science of radioactivity, welcomed a second daughter, Eve, and won a Nobel Prize in Physics. The Curies expected their daughters to excel in their education and their work. And excel they did; by 1925, Irène had a doctorate in chemistry and was working in her mother’s laboratory.

2. HER PARENTS' MARRIAGE WAS A MODEL FOR HER OWN.

Like her mother, Irène fell in love in the lab—both with her work and with another scientist. Frédéric Joliot joined the Curie team as an assistant. He and Irène quickly bonded over shared interests in sports, the arts, and human rights. The two began collaborating on research and soon married, equitably combining their names and signing their work Irène and Frédéric Joliot-Curie.

3. SHE AND HER HUSBAND WERE AN UNSTOPPABLE PAIR.

Black and white photo of Irène and Fréderic Joliot-Curie working side by side in their laboratory.
Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Their passion for exploration drove them ever onward into exciting new territory. A decade of experimentation yielded advances in several disciplines. They learned how the thyroid gland absorbs radioiodine and how the body metabolizes radioactive phosphates. They found ways to coax radioactive isotopes from ordinarily non-radioactive materials—a discovery that would eventually enable both nuclear power and atomic weaponry, and one that earned them the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935.

4. THEY FOUGHT FOR JUSTICE AND PEACE.

The humanist principles that initially drew Irène and Frédéric together only deepened as they grew older. Both were proud members of the Socialist Party and the Comité de Vigilance des Intellectuels Antifascistes (Vigilance Committee of Anti-Fascist Intellectuals). They took great pains to keep atomic research out of Nazi hands, sealing and hiding their research as Germany occupied their country, Irène also served as undersecretary of state for scientific research of the Popular Front government.

5. SHE WAS NOT CONTENT WITH THE STATUS QUO.

Irène eventually scaled back her time in the lab to raise her children Hélène and Pierre. But she never slowed down, nor did she stop fighting for equality and freedom for all. Especially active in women’s rights groups, she became a member of the Comité National de l'Union des Femmes Françaises and the World Peace Council.

6. SHE WORKED HERSELF TO DEATH.

Irène’s extraordinary life was a mirror of her mother’s. Tragically, her death was, too. Years of watching radiation poisoning and cancer taking their toll on Marie never dissuaded Irène from her work. In 1956, dying of leukemia, she entered the Curie Hospital, where she followed her mother’s luminous footsteps into the great beyond.

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Live Smarter
You Can Now Order Food Through Facebook
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After a bit of controversy over its way of aggregating news feeds and some questionable content censoring policies, it’s nice to have Facebook roll out a feature everyone can agree on: allowing you to order food without leaving the social media site.

According to a press release, Facebook says that the company decided to begin offering food delivery options after realizing that many of its users come to the social media hub to rate and discuss local eateries. Rather than hop from Facebook to the restaurant or a delivery service, you’ll be able to stay within the app and select from a menu of food choices. Just click “Order Food” from the Explore menu on a desktop interface or under the “More” option on Android or iOS devices. There, you’ll be presented with options that will accept takeout or delivery orders, as well as businesses participating with services like Delivery.com or EatStreet.

If you need to sign up and create an account with Delivery.com or Jimmy John’s, for example, you can do that without leaving Facebook. The feature is expected to be available nationally, effective immediately.

[h/t Forbes]

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