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January 2007 Archives

January 31, 2007

Organic Cloned Meat: Contradiction in Terms?

I don’t want to eat steak from a cloned moo cow. Sorry, but it creeps me out. I’m even a little weirded out by the thought that the vegetables I eat were engineered, rather than grown. But I can only control so much in my consumer world.

200px-Cow.jpg Last month, the Food and Drug Administration issued a statement saying that meat from cloned animals was okay to eat and that it could be sold in markets. Seems straightforward enough. But then, in a recent article in the Washington Post, this question was raised: Can cloned meat from animals raised on organic farms be considered organic? The answer may seem simple to those of us who prefer our organic meat to have had a mamma and a papa, but the discussion is a little more complicated.

Biotech industry officials argue that if a cloned animal is raised organically, it should be labeled organic. One of their arguments goes as such: We eat meat from organically raised cows that were artificially inseminated, right? They’re not labeled as such on meat packages. So why should cloned meat be treated any differently, when the only difference between it and a regular cow is that it had only one parent?

Well, aside from the ludicrous premise that the technique of lab cloning (which involves difficult cell-fusion procedures at the microscopic level under lab-controlled conditions) and artificial insemination (which involves basically a long turkey baster hooked to a plastic bag full of bull semen) are comparable, the spirit of organic farming simply doesn’t seem to be in line with cloning. The FDA says it’s going to examine the issue possibly in March. I'm sure they'll look into all aspects of the question and examine this thoroughly. The U.S. government has worked too hard to define "organic" to let this go. Plus, there are market forces in play. The market for organic foods is lucrative, and those who shop for organic products are picky. Odds are the anti-cloned meat contingent will win out, and organic meat will not include cloned meat. However, if a compromise is made, we consumers may end up seeing our meat labeled as “organic cloned” in the near future.

Can Food From Cloned Animals Be Called Organic?Washington Post, January 29, 2007
FDA Issues Draft Documents on the Safety of Animal Clones,” FDA News Release, December 28, 2006
For a clear definition for “organic,” check out page 151 of the 2007 World Almanac. Or you can check out this USDA site.

Hate Crimes #1

There's been some controversy over the lack of media coverage of an incident that occurred Halloween of last year. Three young white women were severely beaten by a mob of black teenagers after visiting a haunted house in Long Beach. The incident is being treated as a hate crime because the teenagers--nine of whom were found guilty by a juvenile court judge just last Friday--apparently taunted the women with racial epithets before the beating.

I also found interesting that just recently, a 71-year-old alleged Ku Klux Klansman was arrested for the 1964 kidnapping and murder of two black men. Media interest in the incident had declined after the murder of three civil rights workers that same year, and the case had gone cold for several decades.

I researched hate crime statistics for the 2007 World Almanac. According to the FBI, law-enforcement agencies from around the country reported 998 anti-white offenses in 2004. (That's about 11% of the 9,021 single-bias incidents reported to the FBI.) The same year, there were 3,281 reported anti-black offenses (about 36% of the total). Keep in mind though that not all law-enforcement agencies that report to the FBI include hate crime data. In 2004, only 16% included bias motivation as part of their reports.

Hate Crime Statistics (since 1995) (FBI)

This Day in History: Jan. 31

This Day in History

1606: In England , Guy Fawkes and other conspirators in the Gunpowder Plot—an attempt to kill the king and members of Parliament—are executed.
1917: Suffering from a British blockade, Germany declares almost unrestricted submarine warfare in World War I.
1943: The Battle of Stalingrad in the USSR ends with a German surrender.
1950: Pres. Harry Truman authorizes production of the H-bomb.
1958: Explorer I, the first U.S. earth satellite to go into orbit, is launched by the Army at Cape Canaveral, FL.
1961: In a test of the Project Mercury space capsule, a chimpanzee named Ham is launched and successfully recovered.
1966: The USSR launches Luna 9, an unmanned spacecraft which makes the first soft landing on the moon.
1968: During the Vietnam War, the month-long Battle of Hue begins; units of U.S. Marines and South Vietnamese troops drive North Vietnamese forces from the city.
1971: The spacecraft Apollo 14 lifts off en route to the moon.
1995: U.S. President Clinton invokes presidential emergency authority to provide a $20 billion loan to Mexico to stabilize its falling currency, the peso, and to help Mexico avoid defaulting on its short-term debt.
2006: Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr. is confirmed by the Senate, replacing the retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

Continue reading "This Day in History: Jan. 31" »

January 30, 2007

So Is a Cigar Ever Just a Cigar?

cigar.jpg “There’s a sucker born every minute”—but not according to P.T. Barnum. A new book of quotations seeks to set the record straight on famous bits of wit and wisdom considered to be a part of our culture. The ‘sucker’ phrase? Probably came from a showman/con man named “Paper Collar Joe” and attributed to Barnum by rivals who sought to discredit him.

Yale librarian and editor Fred Shapiro published the The Yale Book of Quotations to debunk that and other such wrongly attributed words, such as, “The British are coming!” which was not said by Paul Revere; “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,” which was not said by Freud; and “War is hell,” which was not said by Gen. William T. Sherman. According to Shapiro, notable quotes are often just put in the wrong context: turns out Mae West did, in fact, say “Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?” but not seductively in one of her films—she was talking to a police officer assigned to escort her.

You can contribute your own quotations to Shapiro’s project, find links to other Shapiro-approved quotation sources, or take a quotations quiz at The Yale Book of Quotations website.

Link: Yale Book of Quotations

Flickr photo from MarkNick (cc)

The Oklo Fossil Reactors

Oklo%20Natural%20Reactor.jpg Keeping with the nuclear power theme, apparently there were naturally-occurring nuclear fission reactors in Africa about 2 billion years ago. The 15 reactors were buried in what is now the Oklo uranium mine in southeast Gabon. They ran off of Uranium 235 (just like man-made nuclear reactors), generating 100 kilowatts for about 150,000 years. Groundwater evaporation and condensation kept them on a 3-hour cycle that prevented meltdowns. More recent research indicates a natural reactor probably occurred at Bangombé, about 22 miles away, around the same time.

While interesting merely as a phenomenon, scientists are more concerned with applying lessons learned from the natural reactors to the disposal of nuclear waste at places like Yucca Mountain. Visit the Department of Energy’s Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management for a detailed fact sheet.

Dr Robert Loss at the Curtin University of Technology in Australia
has also assembled an explanation but it has some dead links.

Link: "The Pulse of a Nuclear Reactor "
(American Physical Society’s Physical Review Focus)

This Day in History: Jan. 30

This Day in History

1649: Britain's King Charles I is beheaded under the orders of Oliver Cromwell and Parliament.
1933: Adolf Hitler is named chancellor of Germany .
1948: Mohandas Gandhi is assassinated by a Hindu fanatic in New Delhi, India .
1968: In the Vietnam War , the Tet offensive is launched by Communist troops which attack Saigon and numerous provincial capitals.
1973: G. Gordon Liddy and James McCord are convicted in the Watergate break-in trial.
2003: Richard C. Reid is sentenced to life in prison in the U.S. for attempting to set off a shoe bomb on a trans-Atlantic flight in Dec. 2001.
2005: Millions of Iraqis cast ballots in the country's first contested elections since 1954.

Continue reading "This Day in History: Jan. 30" »

January 29, 2007

With a “Woof Woof” Here and a “Bau Bau” There

finn-head.jpg Would you like to be able to bark like a dog in Italian, Chinese, or Russian? The popular and aptly-named animal-appreciation blog Cute Overload (up for a Bloggie for 2007) led me to a chart of animal sounds and names put together by Dr. Derek Abbott of The University of Adelaide’s School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering. The chart’s organization makes it easy to use, but I would bet my bow-wows on the more comprehensive animal sounds directory compiled by Georgetown University linguistics professor Cathy Ball.

Cute Overload
Animal Sounds Chart by Derek Abbott
Sounds of the World's Animals by Cathy Ball

Photo: Finnegan, C. Alan Joyce's Cajun-speaking Catahoula leopard dog mix

Nuclear Power: Going Retro to Go Forward

power.jpgNuclear energy generation is a big topic as of lately in Tennessee. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is going to submit an application to build two new nuclear reactors, and restart two old ones according to an article in the Chattanooga Times Free Press. In addition, scientists from Oak Ridge Laboratory believe think they can effectively recycle nuclear waste from area radioactive waste dumps. However, they may also take in waste from 103 other sites from across the U.S.

Personally, I have mixed feelings. As an environmentalist, I’d rather we didn’t split atoms for electricity and dump the radioactive byproduct into storage facilities that may or may not be able effectively keep the stuff safe. Also, I wouldn’t want to be driving my Civic down the highway wondering if the truck next to me is carrying spent nuclear fuel rods. On the other hand, we need electricity, and we can’t keep burning so much coal—which contributes to global warming and acid rain, which may be more pressing problems than what to do with nuclear waste.

Whatever the case, it's a debate that will get more and more play as the U.S. presses on with a green agenda.

"Handling Nuclear Waste," Chattanooga Times Free Press, Jan. 29, 2007
"Nuclear Revival," Chattanooga Times Free Press, Jan. 28, 2007

For some background information, check out the Energy chapter in the 2007 World Almanac, pages 110-115.
Here’s the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration main web site for information on U.S. nuclear reactors.

This Day in History: Jan. 29

This Day in History

1847: The U.S. Mormon Battalion arrives in San Diego, CA, having marched 2,000 miles from Iowa to fight in the war against Mexico.
1861: Kansas is admitted to the Union as the 34th state.
1936: The Baseball Hall of Fame is founded in Cooperstown, NY.
1993: Pres. Bill Clinton announces an easing of the ban against homosexuals in the military, a policy of "don't ask, don't tell."
2002: Pres. George W. Bush focuses on terrorism in his first State of the Union speech, and includes Iran , Iraq , and North Korea as part of an "axis of evil."

Continue reading "This Day in History: Jan. 29" »

January 28, 2007

This Day in History: Jan. 28

This Day in History

1547: England's King Henry VIII dies and is succeeded by his 9-year-old son, Edward VI.
1871: France surrenders in the Franco-Prussian War.
1878: The first commercial telephone exchange opens in New Haven, CT.
1916: Pres. Woodrow Wilson appoints Louis Brandeis to the Supreme Court ; he becomes its first Jewish member.
1973: A cease-fire takes effect in North and South Vietnam as the four parties to the conflict sign an accord in Paris, France.
1986: Moments after liftoff, the space shuttle Challenger explodes, killing all on board—6 astronauts and teacher Christa McAuliffe.
2003: Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the Likud Party retain power in parliamentary elections which give the Likud 38 seats in the Knesset to only 19 for the rival Labor Party.

Continue reading "This Day in History: Jan. 28" »

January 27, 2007

This Day in History: Jan. 27

This Day in History

1967: Astronauts Virgil Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee die when fire breaks out on Apollo I while it is on the ground during a simulation test at Cape Kennedy, FL.
1973: The Vietnam War officially ends when the United States, North Vietnam, South Vietnam, and the Viet Cong sign a peace pact in Paris. The end of the military draft in the United States is announced.
1987: Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev opens a plenary session of the Communist Party Central Committee with a stunning call for major political reforms, including new procedures to elect party officials.
1998: During a TV interview, Hillary Rodham Clinton says that independent counsel Kenneth Starr's investigation is part of a "vast right-wing conspiracy that has been conspiring against my husband."
2002: More than 1,000 people are killed in Nigeria when an army weapons depot explodes near a crowded residential area of Lagos.
2003: As the U.S. and its coalition partners continue their military build-up in the Persian Gulf, chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix accuses Iraq of failure to cooperate in accounting for and removing its weapons of mass destruction.

Continue reading "This Day in History: Jan. 27" »

January 26, 2007

Feast Your Many Eyes on This

I thought I was in data-geek heaven when Swivel went live a few weeks back, but now there's a new suitor for my online-data-visualization affections: Many Eyes, a project of IBM's Visual Communication Lab. According to their (very eloquent) FAQ:
All of us at the Visual Communication Lab are passionate about the potential of data visualization to spark insight. It is that magical moment we live for: an unwieldy, unyielding data set is transformed into an image on the screen, and suddenly the user can perceive an unexpected pattern. As visualization designers we have witnessed and experienced many of those wondrous sparks. But in recent years, we have become acutely aware that the visualizations and the sparks they generate, take on new value in a social setting. Visualization is a catalyst for discussion and collective insight about data.
Hear, hear! And the best part is that they back up all that eloquence with an equally powerful and downright elegant site. Unlike Swivel, Many Eyes doesn't let you overlap and compare different data sources, but it makes up for it by providing a whopping 13 different visualization styles, each offering an abundance of ways to sort, compare, zoom in on, and highlight data. On my first visit, I was taken aback by the heavy reliance on earth tones, but then I happened to flip past "the best statistical graphic ever drawn" in a copy of Tufte, and I think now I understand where they're coming from.

Manyeyes.jpgYou need to do a little spreadsheet-shuffling in order to take advantage of the more complex visualization styles, but the site provides very clear instructions for this... and the results are gorgeous.

For my first experiment, I uploaded some data from a new table that our own M.L. Liu created for the 2007 World Almanac and Book of Facts, showing the slave and "free colored" (an official census designation of the time) populations of U.S. states and territories in selected decennial censuses. A few mouse-clicks later, I was looking at a perfect map of the US, color-coded to show relative population sizes for each selected census year; click on the box at right to explore the maps yourself, or even click back to the original data sheet to generate your own visualizations.

Done something cool with this data (or other data from the World Almanac)? Toss a link into the comments, so we can check it out.

Link: Many Eyes (IBM Visual Communication Lab)
Previously: Swivel It (Just a Little Bit)

Weather Wonk

snowsuit.jpgI grew up in Minnesota, where folks would say that as a Minnesotan, you have both the right and the responsiblity to complain about the weather all year long—it was always too cold, too humid, too icy, too dry, etc.

Now that wintery weather has finally come to my new neck of the woods, I'm reminded of the National Weather Service's comprehensive graphical maps weather tool. The map is interactive: just click on your region and move your mouse over the map for illustrations of temperature, apparent temperature, wind speed, precipitation probability, and a dozen other more technical weather markers, at four set times daily. Or jump forward or back 12 hours at a time—a helpful tool when you live in a city where, even if it snows, there may not be visible evidence an hour later.

Interactive Weather Maps

Flickr photo from Exployment Now (cc)

This Day in History: Jan. 26

This Day in History

1500: The Spanish navigator Vicente Yáñez Pinzón becomes the first known European to reach Brazil , landing near the site of present-day Recife.
1788: The first settlers, mostly a shipload of convicts, arrive in Australia from Britain .
1837: Michigan is admitted to the Union as the 26th state.
1939: At the end of the Spanish Civil War, Barcelona falls to the Nationalist forces of Gen. Francisco Franco .
1950: The Indian republic is formally proclaimed.
1957: India declares the state of Kashmir to be an integral part of the Indian Republic.
1971: Charles Manson and 3 of his followers are found guilty of first-degree murder in the 1969 slaying of actress Sharon Tate and 6 others.
1996: The Senate approves START II, ratifying the disarmament treaty signed 3 years earlier. Responding to a subpoena, Hillary Rodham Clinton testifies before a grand jury investigating Whitewater, the first time a first lady has ever done so.
2001: An earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale strikes the Indian state of Gujurat, killing more than 20,000 people.
2003: In football , the Tampa Bay Buccaneers trounce the Oakland Raiders 48-21 to win Super Bowl XXXVII, their first championship.

Continue reading "This Day in History: Jan. 26" »

January 25, 2007

Heat Mining: A New Energy Source for the U.S.

In Tuesday’s State of the Union address, President Bush mentioned coal, solar, wind, and nuclear energy, but didn't say a word about geothermal energy. While working on the Environment section of The World Almanac for Kids 2008, however, I came across an interesting new MIT report, which suggests that geothermal energy could commercially supply 10% of the United States’ electrical supply by 2050.

Geothermal energy doesn’t seem to get a whole lot of attention; according to MIT, the last in-depth study was done in 1979. This energy traditionally comes from hot springs near the Earth’s surface (like in Reykjavik, Iceland). They emit hot steam, which spins turbines to generate electricity. In contrast to coal, a non-renewable fossil fuel that generates half of the U.S. electrical supply, geothermal energy creates very few emissions; and unlike other "alternative" energy forms, geothermal energy generators can run non-stop without relying on sunlight or wind. Geothermal%20Heat%20Map.jpg

The U.S. Department of Energy-sponsored study focused on an alternate "Enhanced Geothermal System" that would involve drilling holes more than 5,000 ft toward the Earth's mantle, into hot, dry rock. Water would then be sent down the holes to be heated, and then travel through natural fractures to be sucked up other nearby tunnels (The Department of Energy has a good animation). At the surface, the water would either be cooled quickly to make steam (a process called flashing) or looped around another liquid that could be heated into steam at a lower temperature; that steam would power turbines to generate electricity.

The report notes that water would have to be heated in excess of 150-200°C for electricity or 100-150°C for heating homes. Compare those numbers to the map at right, which shows estimated rock temperatures at more than 20,000 feet below ground.

This sounds completely fascinating to me. If you're still confused about how it all works, the Union of Concerned Scientists has a good page explaining these systems.

MIT-led panel backs "heat mining" as key U.S. energy source (Mass. Institute of Technology)

Coffee... For the Birds?

In recent years, new labels have been cropping up in food packaging. The "Organic" label probably looks familiar to many people. If you drink coffee, you might have also seen labels touting "Fair Trade" and "Shade Grown."

bflogo4.gifI recently found out about another label, this one created by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. It now offers a certification process that leads to coffee labeled "Bird Friendly." The coffee is described as follows:

"Bird Friendly" coffee is coffee that comes from farms in Latin America that provide good, forest-like habitat for birds. Rather than being grown on land that has been cleared of all other vegetation, "Bird Friendly" coffees are planted under a canopy of trees.

So the coffee is shade-grown coffee. In addition, it must be organic. The center provides guidelines for the amount and type of shade provided, so that there is "structural" diversity as well as a diversity of plant species. This method of production is in contrast to the typical method, wherein coffee is planted under full sun and grown with the use of chemicals and fertilizers.

Link: "Bird Friendly" Coffee (Smithsonian National Zoological Park, Migratory Bird Center)

This Day in History: Jan. 25

This Day in History

1787: In Shays' Rebellion, a group of poor farmers protesting high taxes march into Springfield, Massachusetts to seize the federal arsenal.
1890: The United Mine Workers of America, a labor union composed mainly of coal miners and coal-mine construction workers, is organized.
1898: The U.S. battleship Maine arrives in Havana, Cuba to protect American lives and property.
1915: Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas A. Watson complete the first transcontinental telephone call, between New York and San Francisco.
1959: The first transcontinental flight occurs, on an American Airlines 707 nonstop from California to New York .
1971: President Milton Obote of Uganda, attending a conference of Commonwealth leaders in Singapore, is deposed in a coup led by Major General Idi Amin.
1998: John Elway leads the Denver Broncos football team to an upset 31-24 victory in the Super Bowl over the defending champs, the Green Bay Packers.
2002: A U.S. congressional delegation visits the al-Qaeda prisoners in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and declares their treatment humane.
2003: Serena Williams defeats her sister Venus in the Australian Open and becomes only the fifth woman ever to hold all four professional women's tennis titles at the same time.
2004: Spirit , an unmanned U.S. spacecraft, successfully lands on the planet Mars . It begins transmitting images of its surroundings back to Earth the next day.
2006: Hamas, an Islamist organization, gains a majority in Palestinian parliamentary elections; the surprise win casts doubt on the peace process.

Continue reading "This Day in History: Jan. 25" »

January 24, 2007

Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Measurement? That's Sooo Corny

Each year in the Environment chapter of the World Almanac, we present the annual atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (for 2007, it’s on page 284). We get that information from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, which is part of the Department of Energy. Pre-1943 levels are derived from air bubbles in ice core samples taken in Antarctica, and later measurements are taken directly from the atmosphere. corn_crop.jpgSoon though, you may see us presenting CO2 levels taken from corn samples. That’s right, good ol’ fashioned corn, the vegetable that can do anything from feeding the world, to fueling our cars, to giving us a tasty treat at movie theaters.

Scientists from U.C. Irvine measured levels of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels in corn samples taken from 31 locations across the U.S. They chose corn because it’s grown pretty much everywhere, and the carbon in it is collected during a single growing season (so it's just the carbon from the most recent growing season, and not seasons past). CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels doesn’t contain any radiocarbons, so the scientists can easily tell if the carbon dioxide came from fossil fuels or from natural sources (veeeery C.S.I.-type stuff). By measuring the corn, the scientists were able to accurately tell which areas of the U.S. had highest concentrations of fossil-fuel-derived carbon dioxide. The highest levels were in California, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. The lowest concentrations were in Colorado, Idaho, and New Mexico--because, as scientists found, the Rocky Mountains act as a sort of CO2 barrier.

There are lots of ways to measure CO2 in the atmosphere but this method may provide a cost-effective complement to other methods. If anything, it just goes to show that whatever is in the air can eventually end up in our popcorn.

Press release:Scientists map air pollution using corn grown in U.S. fields (U.C. Irvine)
Map: CO2 concentrations in the U.S. (Red areas have the highest, blue areas have the lowest)
Abstract: Regional patterns of radiocarbon and fossil fuel-derived CO2 in surface air across North America (Geophysical Research Letters, January 23, 2007)

2007 State of the Union (and Presidential Tag Cloud Revisited)

Just a reminder, for those of you who missed my previous rave about it, that Chirag Mehta has updated his Presidential Speeches Tag Cloud with an analysis of last night's State of the Union. "Terrorists" and "Iraq" remain the most frequently-used words, but my eye also catches on the increased frequency of "baghdad" and "qaeda" in comparison to previous SOTUs, and slightly lower relative frequency of "economy" and "freedom." Anybody notice any other interesting trends? Take it to the comments.

Link: US Presidential Speeches Tag Cloud
2007 SOTU Text: State of the Union Address, Jan. 23 2007

UPDATE: See also today's New York Times for The State of the Union in Words, another examination of word frequency in State of the Union speeches (but limited only to those given by Pres. Bush).

This Day in History: Jan. 24

This Day in History

1848: Gold is discovered at John Sutter's mill in California.
1942: A special investigating commission reports to President Roosevelt that the Pearl Harbor disaster was due chiefly to the "dereliction of duty" and "errors of judgment" of two officers.
1965: British leader Sir Winston Churchill dies.
1966: Indira Gandhi is sworn in as India's prime minister.
1978: The Soviet satellite Cosmos 954 falls from space, most of it burning up over northern Canada.
1989: Serial killer Ted Bundy is executed in Florida.
1998: The space shuttle Endeavour docks with the Russian space station Mir, and Andrew Thomas becomes the 7th and last American astronaut to join the Mir crew.
2002: 20 year-old American John Walker Lindh appears in an Alexandria, VA court to face charges of treason after being captured in Afghanistan fighting with the Taliban. Committees in both houses of Congress begin investigations into the spectacular and suspicious 2001 bankruptcy of the Enron Corp., the onetime stalwart of the New Economy.

Continue reading "This Day in History: Jan. 24" »

January 23, 2007

Is That a Tenderloin in Your Pocket?

meat2.jpg A few years ago, there was no question about the most shoplifted product in the U.S.— you couldn't open a newspaper without seeing an article about over-the-counter medications stolen, presumably to be made into crystal meth. Since then, many states have taken measures to put pseudoephedrines behind secure counters, making them much harder to acquire via the 'five-finger discount.'

But as Brendan I. Koerner explained in his Slate magazine "Number 1" column, something else had to take its place as the reluctant champ of illegally-attained retail products. According to the Food Marketing Institute, meat now reigns supreme over runners-up analgesics, razor blades, and baby formula.

Koerner reports on "the lady who seemingly defied the laws of physics by stuffing an entire HoneyBaked Ham in her purse, the man discovered with a trove of filet mignons in his Jockey shorts, or the meth addict who explained that his dealer, exhibiting an atypical benevolent streak, had agreed to accept prime rib in lieu of cash," but the intriguing part is not necessarily in picturing the smuggling of a roast on one's person. Rather, it's in who is doing the thieving: employed women between 35-54 years of age are the most likely culprits.

The Purloined Sirloin (Slate)
FMI Supermarket Loss Prevention Report

Photo from SqueakyMarmot on Flickr (cc)

Put Another President in Your Pocket

WashingtonCoin.jpg Third time's a charm? The U.S. Mint is set to give the $1 coin another go, but this time they’re using the power of dead presidents. Starting with Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison in 2007, the Mint will release four presidents each year, in the order in which they served—much like the state quarters, which were released in the order in which states joined the union. If the next president in line is still living, however (read: Jimmy Carter in 2016), the program will “pause.”

The coins will be similar in shape and color to the Sacagawea dollar already in circulation. The Statue of Liberty will be on the back, and the phrases “E Pluribus Unum,” “In God We Trust,” and the mint mark will be on the side. Laws have also been passed to encourage more widespread use of the coins.

Washington will be unveiled tomorrow in Houston and Chicago. He’ll be heading into circulation Feb. 15. Adams will follow in May. Already a presidential dollar disciple looking for a new use for those paper bills? Buy them in sheets for wallpaper at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing store.

Presidential $1 Coin Program (U.S. Mint)

This Day in History: Jan. 23

This Day in History

1849: Elizabeth Blackwell becomes the first woman to receive an MD degree.
1933: The 20th Amendment is ratified, moving the date of presidential inaugurations from March 4 to Jan. 20.
1960: The bathyscape Trieste sets a world record when it descends almost 7 miles to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, near Guam.
1964: The 24th Amendment to the Constitution is ratified, prohibiting imposition of any poll tax as a requirement for voting in federal elections.
1968: The USS Pueblo with its 83-man crew is seized in the Sea of Japan by North Korea.
1977: Roots, a TV series based on Alex Haley's best-selling book, makes history January 23-30, when the show is viewed by more Americans than any other program since the invention of television.
1997: Madeleine Albright is sworn in as secretary of state, becoming the first woman to head the State Dept.
2004: The chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq , David Kay, states that Iraq had no stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons before the March 2003 invasion.
2005: Ukrainian President-elect Viktor Yushchenko, the opposition candidate in several rounds of voting in late 2004, takes office.
2006: Canadians voting in parliamentary elections end more than 12 years of Liberal Party rule, granting the Conservative Party and its leader, Stephen Harper, a minority government.

Continue reading "This Day in History: Jan. 23" »

January 22, 2007

Helpful Hints for Clinton, Obama, Brownback, and McCain*

On Saturday, January 20, Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) announced her intention to run for president in 2008, joining Senators Barack Obama (D-IL), Sam Brownback (R-KS), and a growing list of other contenders.

As their words, actions, and personal styles come fully into the media spotlight, we invite all of them to ponder the foibles of past presidents and presidential candidates. See below (and after the jump) for our bipartisan editors’ picks of the most embarrassing moments for U.S. presidents and presidential candidates in recent decades. And feel free to add your favorites in the comments!

Most Embarrassing Presidential (and Presidential Candidate) Moments
Of the Last 35 Years

10. Jimmy Carter loudly bungles the name of a former Democratic vice president and icon during a dramatic part of his acceptance speech for the presidential nomination at the 1980 Democratic National Convention: "And we're the party of a great leader of compassion—Lyndon Baines Johnson, and the party of a great man who should have been president, who would have been one of the greatest presidents in history—Hubert Horatio Hornblower—Humphrey." (Aug. 14, 1980)

Ford-Brezhnev.jpg9. In the second presidential campaign debate between incumbent Pres. Gerald Ford and his Democratic rival, Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter, Ford makes a misstatement widely seen as ridiculous when he declares, " ... there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and there never will be under a Ford administration." (Oct. 6, 1976)

8. Presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry (D, MA) tries to defend himself against charges that by failing to vote in favor of funds for the Iraq War he was betraying American troops, but ends up fueling the perception that he has taken inconsistent positions on issues: "I actually did vote for the $87 billion, before I voted against it." (Mar. 16, 2004)

7. Pres. Richard Nixon, while campaigning to mute his Watergate and credibility problems, defends his personal finances at a nationally televised Q&A session with a convention of Associated Press managing editors: "And in all of my years of public life, I have never obstructed justice ... people have got to know whether or not their President is a crook. Well, I am not a crook. I have earned everything I have got." (Nov. 17, 1973)

6. During a microphone check, unaware that he is being recorded, Pres. Ronald Reagan jokes, "My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes." (Aug. 11, 1984)

Continue reading "Helpful Hints for Clinton, Obama, Brownback, and McCain*" »

Sportsfan Psychology 101

I was nauseous for the entire second half of the Pats/Colts game, and I'm still nauseous today. I watched my team, the New England Patriots, crumble before the Indianapolis Colts. It was terrible. Excruciating. Gut-wrenching. Sad. But I admit, the MUCH better team won. For all you Indianapolis and Chicago people out there, your teams deserve this. Colts/Bears will be a good one. But for now, I'm grieving for my Patriots.

Thing is, I can’t say I didn’t see this coming; no empire lasts forever, not even the Patriots. And I can fully say that I enjoyed the ride while it lasted. Then again, the ride isn’t over, in fact, with a few good draft picks, some key free agent signings, next year, NEXT YEAR!!!…

I’m sorry, there I go again. A friend told me that I’m like Linus in the pumpkin patch, with my blanket, waiting for the Great Pumpkin to arrive. Yeah, he didn’t show up, but next year, he most assuredly will. That’s how I feel about the Patriots right now. I’m an optimist.

As part of my healing, I’m trying to understand why I care so much about my sports teams. There’ve been plenty of articles written by sportswriters about this, but I wanted the story from a psychological point of view. Here were the articles I found. A few things about me before you read on: I am not a hooligan; I don't get violent about sports; I don't talk about my teams in terms of "we"; and I don't stalk anybody. I just love a good game, especially when my teams win those good games. Enjoy.

The Social Psychology of the Creation of a Sportsfan Identity (Athletic Insight, the Online Journal of Sports Psychology, 2003)
Through the Wind and Rain (StudentBMJ, 2004)
Sports Fanatics (ScienCentral News, 2004)

This Day in History: Jan. 22

This Day in History

1879: A British force totaling more than 1200 men is almost annihilated by Zulu warriors at Isandhlwana in South Africa.
1901: Britain's Queen Victoria dies after ruling for more than 63 years.
1905: Thousands of Russians march to the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg to present their demands to the czar. Hundreds are killed and wounded by the imperial guards, triggering a revolution.
1943: U.S. and Australian soldiers take New Guinea in the first land victory over the Japanese in World War II.
1944: Allied forces land at Anzio, Italy.
1949: During the Chinese revolution, Beijing surrenders to the Communist forces.
1973: In Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court rules that states cannot prevent women from having abortions during the first 6 months of pregnancy. Former President Lyndon B. Johnson dies in Texas.
1998: Theodore Kaczynski pleads guilty in the Unabomber case.
2003: The Senate votes 94-0 to approve Pres. Bush 's nomination of former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge as the first secretary of Homeland Security.

Continue reading "This Day in History: Jan. 22" »

January 21, 2007

This Day in History: Jan. 21

This Day in History

1793: During the French Revolution , King Louis XVI is executed.
1949: Chiang Kai-shek resigns as president of China , as his Nationalist forces lose ground in their war with the Communists.
1950: Alger Hiss is convicted of perjury after denying that he had passed secret documents to Whittaker Chambers.
1954: The Nautilus , the first atomic-powered submarine , is launched at Groton, CT.
1976: The supersonic Concorde makes its first flight between Britain and France .
1977: Pres. Jimmy Carter pardons most Vietnam War draft evaders.

Continue reading "This Day in History: Jan. 21" »

January 20, 2007

This Day in History: Jan. 20

This Day in History

1649: During the English civil war, the trial of King Charles I begins in Westminster Hall.
1949: U.S. president Harry S. Truman proposes a major foreign-aid program, later called the Point Four Program.
1953: Dwight Eisenhower takes office as the first Republican president in 20 years.
1981: Minutes after Ronald Reagan's inauguration, the 52 Americans held hostage in Iran for 444 days are released.
1987: While negotiating the release of kidnap victims in Lebanon, Anglican Church representative Terry Waite disappears.
1997: Millionaire Steve Fossett lands his hot-air balloon in India, having completed a record-setting flight of 9,672 miles and 146 hrs., 54 min.
2001: George W. Bush is inaugurated at the 43rd President of the United States at noon on the steps of the Capitol in Washington, D.C.
Outgoing Pres. Bill Clinton grants 176 last-minute pardons, the most controversial of which was financier Marc Rich, who had fled the country in 1983 after being charged with $48 million in tax evasion.

Continue reading "This Day in History: Jan. 20" »

January 19, 2007

The Week in Facts: Jan. 15-19, 2007

If you're new to our blog (and judging from this week's statistics, a lot of you are), welcome! We've only been doing this for a couple of months, but it's been a lot of fun and we look forward to an exciting 2007. The blog isn't a full-time gig for any of us (we're already hard at work on 2008 editions of the best-selling The World Almanac and Book of Facts and The World Almanac for Kids), but we still make time to post at least two new entries each weekday, in addition to a daily summary of historical milestones and notable birthdays.

If you like what you see, do us a favor: spread the word! If you've got a blog or website of your own, throw up a link or two and let your visitors know that we exist... or use the "Email This" links below each entry to share your favorite ones with friends and family. Got a suggestion for an entry? E-mail it to us or let us know in the comments. Want to have each new entry delivered via e-mail, or your favorite newsreader? Subscribe!

For now, however, hit the jump for a roundup of this week's entries. See you next week...

Continue reading "The Week in Facts: Jan. 15-19, 2007" »

How Did that Go Again?

retrojunk.jpg I was watching a TV movie the other night when a familiar face appeared on-screen. “Balki!” my friends and I yelled. Otherwise known as actor Bronson Pinchot, Balki had been one of two main characters in the TV show “Perfect Strangers.” My friends and I had all watched the show, which ran for eight seasons from 1986 to 1993. In a fit of nostalgia, we tried to remember its theme song...and finally located a clip of the show’s intro on Retro Junk.

Retro Junk bills itself as “your memory machine,” and its vault is massive. Not just TV shows are archived. Movies, commercials, and cartoons are all organized, alphabetically and by decade. Retro Junk only appears to go as far back as the 70s. Still, it’s got many of the classics, like the following:

“The Cosby Show”—the highest-rated TV show every season between 1985 and 1988.
“M*A*S*H”—Its last episode, which aired on Feb. 28, 1983, is the highest-rated TV program of all time.
Wendy's “Where’s the Beef?” commercial—Wendy’s was ranked 76th in the U.S. in 2005 ad spending dollars.

Link: RetroJunk.com

Top Dog/Underdog

One of man's best friends is moving up in the world. Earlier this week, the American Kennel Club announced that for the first time in about 70 years, a small breed displaced longtime favorites—German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers—to land at number two on the list of the most popular purebreds in America. The top spot is still held by the Labrador Retriever, the breed that's been leading the pack since 1991, while second place is now held by the tiny Yorkshire Terrier ('Yorkie' to its friends and fans). The rest of the top 10: dogs.bmp

2006 Most Popular Dogs
1. Labrador Retriever
2. Yorkshire Terrier
3. German Shepherd Dog
4. Golden Retriever
5. Beagle
6. Dachshund
7. Boxer
8. Poodle
9. Shih Tzu
10. Miniature Schnauzer

You'll notice that the German Shepherd is always referred to as the 'German Shepherd Dog'—presumably the AKC wants no confusion from people trying to register sheep herders named Klaus.

Check out the full list, as well as individual city rankings, historical trends in breed popularity, and great pictures like the one here, at the links below.

Most Popular American Dogs and Historical Trends
Popular Breeds by City
"Top Dogs" at Top of the Rock (pictures)

This Day in History: Jan. 19

This Day in History

1937: Howard Hughes flies his monoplane from Los Angeles to Newark, NJ, in 7 hrs., 28 min., 25 sec., setting a transcontinental air record.
1949: Congress raises the president's salary to $100,000, plus $50,000 tax-free for expenses.
1966: Indira Gandhi is elected prime minister of India.
1977: Pres. Gerald Ford pardons Iva Toguri D'Aquino, who broadcast as Tokyo Rose in World War II.
2004: Sen. John Kerry wins the Iowa caucuses, the first state Democratic contest in the 2004 presidential race.

Continue reading "This Day in History: Jan. 19" »

January 18, 2007

BMJ's Top Medical Advance Since 1840

dreamybathroom.jpg Have a glass of tap water, take a shower, give a 21 flush salute! Sanitation has been rated the top medical advance since 1840 according to the British Medical Journal. The competition was tough (anesthesia, vaccines, the oral contraceptive pill, full list here), but clean water and sewage disposal gathered the most votes in an online poll that asked voters to rank the top 15 milestones, as selected by a panel of BMJ’s editors and advisers.

BMJ Summarizes:

In the 1800s acute infectious diseases that killed male breadwinners were a major cause of poverty. Believing that diseases were caused by air contaminated by poor urban drainage, governments built new sewage disposal and water supply systems. This revolutionised public health in Europe, and mortality from infectious diseases fell dramatically. Nowadays we know that better water supply and sanitation can cut diarrhoea among children in developing countries by about a fifth. The 19th century “sanitary revolution” shows that effective intervention does not always need accurate knowledge, that environmental measures may be more effective than changing individual behaviour, and that universal measures may be better than targeted measures in reducing health inequalities.
The poll was made to commemorate the launch of BMJ’s new website. The entire issue, including articles on all 15 milestones, is free online.

Photo of "Haiku and High Design", runner up in the National Kitchen & Bath Assoc.'s 2006 Bathroom Design Awards.

Genealogy Made Easy

Geni-shot.jpgLike a lot of people, I've made half-hearted stabs at compiling a family tree but never had the time or energy to delve too deeply into the project. But now there's hope for all of us lazy, would-be genealogists, courtesy of Geni, a slick, easy-to-use, online family tree and family history tool.

It couldn't be easier to get started: pick your gender, type in your name and e-mail address, and presto! You've got a one-person family tree. From there, you just click on easy-to-follow icons to add parents, siblings, spouses, and children, with as much detail as you care to provide. The best part? You can unload some of the work on other members of your tree. Provide an e-mail address for any family member, and Geni will allow them to log in and contribute their own knowledge--from adding new family members to filling in minute biographical details.

It's a new service, so performance can be a little slow and some features don't work consistently. There also doesn't seem to be an "export" or "print" feature, which would make it a killer app. And despite Geni's privacy policy, you should still be wary of giving any website a ton of private, personal information.

It's definitely not a tool for "serious" genealogists, but for those of us who just want to tinker with a quick, simple, and fun family free, it makes for at least a few diverting hours.

Link: Geni (via Lifehacker)

Note: If you need some help tracking down distant or deceased relatives, or you have a more serious interest in genealogy, the following resources are a great place to start:
Genealogy at the National Archives

The World at a Glance: Surprising Facts

surprise.jpgHere we go again! It's time for another installment of "The World at a Glance," a new feature we added to The World Almanac 2007 to call attention to some of the thousands of eye-opening facts we packed into the book. This time, the focus is on "Surprising Facts"—from hard-to-believe bits of geographical trivia, to startling statistics that made us wonder whether one of the interns was playing a practical joke. (They weren't, but we still made them triple-check the fourth item on this list.)
  • Young American men (18-24) watch less TV per week than any other group, an average of 23 hours, 1 minute in 2005.
  • Despite rising 2005 domestic gasoline prices, U.S. prices averaged among the lowest in the world: 46% lower than in Japan and nearly 60% lower than in Germany and the U.K.
  • Antarctica is considered a desert, with annual precipitation of only 8 inches along the coast and far less inland.
  • The African nation of Equatorial Guinea had the world’s second-highest per capita GDP in 2005 ($50,200, up from only $2,700 in 2002), thanks to booming oil sales.
  • The easternmost point in the U.S. is in Alaska: Pochnoi Point, on Semisopochnoi Island, is at 179°× 46' E longitude.
  • All 50 of the world’s tallest mountains are in Asia.
  • U.S. defense spending of $465 billion in 2004 was more than 3 times the combined estimate of spending by Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, and Syria.
  • The most popular radio format in the U.S. is country (19% of stations), but rock music sells the most (32% of sales).
  • In the U.S., firearm deaths by suicide outnumber those by homicide by more than 40%.
Got some surprising statistics of your own? Let us know in the comments.

Previously: The World at a Glance: Number Ones
Related: "Unbreakable" Sports Records

Photo from Meredith Farmer's Flickr stream (CC)

This Day in History: Jan. 18

This Day in History

1778: British Capt. James Cook discovers the Hawaiian Islands , which he calls the Sandwich Islands.
1871: William I of Prussia is proclaimed emperor of Germany at a ceremony held in the palace of Versailles, France , occupied by the German army during the Franco-Prussian War.
1912: The expedition of England's Robert F. Scott reaches the South Pole, then discovers that Roald Amundsen got there first.
1919: The Peace Conference to end World War I opens in Versailles, France under Georges Clemenceau.
1969: Expanded 4-party peace talks on Vietnam begin.
1997: Norwegian Borge Ousland completes a 1,675-mile trek across Antarctica , the first time anyone has crossed the continent alone.

Continue reading "This Day in History: Jan. 18" »

January 17, 2007

Some Last Thoughts On Divisional Weekend

As a loyal Patriots fan, I’m still in a haze after NFL divisional weekend. The last time I felt that stressed during a game was back in 2002 when the Pats beat the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI (it was soon after that game that gray hairs became a regular fixture on my head). This coming weekend, when the final four teams compete for the AFC and NFC Championships, is sure to be an entertaining one. However, before we move away from the events of Jan. 13-14, 2007, here’s a little piece detailing some of the interesting statistical and historic milestones/events from this past divisional weekend. Vinatieri_Adam.jpgTwo of my personal favorites:
  • Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri (career stats) has scored in 19 playoff games, which ties him with George Blanda (career stats). We can be certain that ol’ “Automatic Adam” will have plenty of opportunities to set a new record against his former team this weekend in the AFC Championship game.
  • The Colts/Ravens game was only the fourth playoff game in NFL history where no touchdowns were scored. The last time that happened was back in 1980 when the L.A. Rams beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 9-0.
There are plenty of other similar facts covered in the article. A little warning to those of you who aren't New England fans, there are more than a few Patriots facts. On the other hand, for those of you out there who are New England fans, you'll find oodles of good stats and good times.

Facts About Divisional Weekend (Superbowl.com)

Crime Lingo #1: What Makes Assault so Aggravating?

If you watch your local news, you’ve probably heard certain terms thrown about without really understanding what they meant. Murder seems easy enough to comprehend. But then there’s assault. Aggravated assault. Manslaughter. And a litany of other crime jargon.

In updating the “Crime” chapter for The World Almanac 2007, I learned just how detailed crime definitions can be. According to the FBI, which maintains the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program for the U.S., assault is defined as “an unlawful attack by one person upon another.” Assaults are considered aggravated when the intent is “severe or aggravated bodily injury.”

Aggravated assaults are further subcategorized by weapons involved—by firearm (e.g., revolvers, automatic pistols, shotguns, zip guns, rifles), by knife or cutting instrument (e.g., knives, razors, hatchets, axes, cleavers, scissors, glass, broken bottles, ice picks), by some other dangerous weapon (e.g., Mace, pepper spray, clubs, bricks, jack handles, tire irons, bottles), or by “hands, fists, feet, etc.” If an incident involves different kinds of weapons, then multiple offenses are reported.

Hit the link below for comprehensive statistics on aggravated assaults from the FBI's most recent Crime in the United States report. But first, a few highlights:

  • Nationwide, an estimated 862,947 aggravated assaults were reported during 2005.
  • An examination of the 10-year trend data for the rate of aggravated assaults revealed that rate in 2005 declined 25.5 percent when compared with the rate for 1996.
  • In 2005, 25.0 percent of aggravated assaults for which law enforcement agencies submitted expanded data involved a physical (hands, fists, feet, etc.) confrontation. Twenty-one percent of aggravated assaults involved offenders with a firearm.

Aggravated Assault (FBI, Crime in the United States 2005)

Edward's Untimely Death Series: Entry #3

minter.jpgWilliam Desmond Taylor (1872-1922), was an actor and director of silent films, who is remembered less for his work than for his sensational murder in 1922. Born William Cunningham Deane-Tanner, he mysteriously disappeared from New York in 1908, abandoning his wife (the daughter of a wealthy Wall Street broker) and child, and resurfaced with a new name in Hollywood in 1912. He directed over 50 films, working with many stars of the silent era including Mary Pickford, Wallace Reid and his protégé Mary Miles Minter. Found in his bungalow, shot in the back, on February 2, 1922, his death has never been solved. Among those suspected were the comedian actress Mabel Normand, Taylor’s valet Henry Peavy, Mary Miles Minter (1902-1984), and her mother Charlotte Shelby. Minter’s career took a nose dive after the murder and she lived in obscurity. In 1981, she was found beaten, bound, gagged, robbed and left for dead in the kitchen of her Santa Monica home. The police described her as a "tiny, frail old lady," and were shocked to discover she'd been a silent film star.

This Day in History: Jan. 17

This Day in History

1377: Pope Gregory XI brings the papacy to Rome from its "Babylonian captivity" in Avignon, France , where it had resided between 1309 and 1377.

1781: In the Battle of Cowpens during the American Revolution , colonial forces under Gen. Daniel Morgan send the British troops under Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton into a disorderly retreat.

1893: Hawaii's last monarch, Queen Liliuokalani, is deposed and the monarchy abolished by U.S. settlers.

1950: In Boston, masked bandits rob Brinks, Inc., of $2.8 million, $1.2 million of it in cash.

1977: Convicted murderer Gary Gilmore is executed in Utah in the first exercise of capital punishment in the United States since 1967.

1991: In the Persian Gulf War , the allied forces launch a devastating air attack on Iraq .

1994: A predawn earthquake rocks the Los Angeles area, killing 61 and causing heavy damage.

1995: An earthquake in Kobe, Japan kills 5,000

1998: In a deposition in the Paula Jones case, Pres. Bill Clinton denies having had an affair with Monica Lewinsky.

2004: The U.S. military's death toll in the war in Iraq reaches 500.

Continue reading "This Day in History: Jan. 17" »

January 16, 2007

"Women Are Teachable"

rosie.gif During World War II, nearly half of the women in the U.S. took jobs outside the home. Most Americans easily recognize the iconic image of Rosie the Riveter—and the contribution that the millions of Rosies around the country made to the war effort. But we don't hear much about any efforts—however dated they may seem today—that were made by companies seeking to ease the transition for their newly gender-integrated workforce.

The National Archives Southeast Region has a World War II-era booklet distributed to male shift supervisors at a production plant to help them adjust to having female employees. The pamphlet contains outdated wisdom—such as the title of this blog post—and sage tips from "Avoid horseplay or 'kidding'; she may resent it," to "When she does a good job, tell her so." Click the link below to find out the importance of knowing restroom locations, having a reliable "female counselor" on every shift, and much more.

Women in Wartime Industries Advice [National Archives - Southeast Region]

10,000 Online Maps

LOCmaps.jpg Late last year, the Library of Congress added the 10,000th digital map to their online Geography and Map Reading Room. The 1607 chart of the North American coast by Samuel de Champlain (right) was described as such:
The unique document, originally intended for presentation to Henry IV, King of France, was compiled by Champlain (1567–1635), founder of New France (Canada). The map provides the first thorough delineation of the Canadian and New England coast from Cape Sable to Cape Cod.
These maps are an excellent resource for research as well as a great time-killer. Their collection of City and Town maps is a good place to start (this 1892 map of New York prominently displays the New York World Building, home to the World Almanac, when it was the world's tallest.)

Landmark in Map Digitization: Library Places 10,000th Map Online (Library of Congress)

This Day in History: Jan. 16

This Day in History

1773: British explorer and navigator Capt. James Cook makes the first crossing of the Antarctic Circle.
1883: Congress passes the Pendleton Act, reforming civil service.
1919: The 18th Amendment , on Prohibition , is ratified.
1943: In World War II , Britain begins heavy bombing of Berlin.
1945: The Battle of the Bulge ends in Allied victory.
1979: The Shah of Iran , who has ruled for 37 years, goes into exile.
2001: Pres. Laurent Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is shot and killed in the presidential palace by a bodyguard.

Continue reading "This Day in History: Jan. 16" »

January 15, 2007

This Day in History: Jan. 15

This Day in History

1559: Queen Elizabeth I is crowned in England .
1759: The British Museum opens in London .
1895: The Tchaikovsky ballet Swan Lake premieres in St. Petersburg, Russia .
1970: Biafra, a short-lived secessionist state (1967-70) of the Ibo people in southeastern Nigeria , formally surrenders, ending the civil war.
1992: The independence of the former Yugoslav republics of Croatia and Slovakia is formally recognized by the European Community.
1997: Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat and Israeli Prime Min. Benjamin Netanyahu reach agreement on Israeli withdrawal from Hebron.
2005: A military jury sentences Army Reserve Spec. Charles Graner Jr. to 10 years in military prison for torturing and sexually humiliating Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, a prison west of Baghdad, Iraq .

Continue reading "This Day in History: Jan. 15" »

January 14, 2007

This Day in History: Jan. 14

This Day in History

1639: The first constitution written in America, the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, is ratified.
1784: The Continental Congress ratifies the Treaty of Paris, officially ending the American Revolution .
1794: Operating on his wife, Dr. Jesse Bennett of Virginia performs the first successful Cesarean section.
1943: The Casablanca Conference, a WWII strategy meeting between U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt and British prime minister Winston Churchill , begins in Casablanca, Morocco .
1985: A unilateral pullout of Israeli troops from Lebanon is approved by Israel's cabinet.
2004: Andrew Fastow, former CEO of Enron, agrees to cooperate with authorities in a plea bargain that gives him ten years in prison. Libya ratifies the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, a month after agreeing to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.:

Continue reading "This Day in History: Jan. 14" »

January 13, 2007

This Day in History: Jan. 13

This Day in History

1898: French author Emile Zola's J'accuse, defending Capt. Alfred Dreyfus, is published in Paris.
1966: Robert C. Weaver is named secretary of the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, becoming the first African-American Cabinet member.
1990: Douglas Wilder is inaugurated in Virginia , becoming the nation's first African-American governor.
1993: More than 120 nations begin signing a treaty banning the manufacture, stockpiling, and use of chemical weapons.

Continue reading "This Day in History: Jan. 13" »

January 12, 2007

Human Hairballs

If you’re a fan of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman graphic novel series, then you might remember reading about bezoars—in particular, trichobezoars, or human hairballs. I’d never heard of such things before and was surprised to learn that humans and other animals, not just cats, can produce hairballs. NMHM_Hairball_sm.jpg

Bezoar is a Persian word meaning “antidote,” and it was once thought that bezoars could neutralize poison. Trichobezoars can occur in people who suffer from compulsive hair pulling (trichotillomania) or compulsive eating of non-food items (pica). Trichophagia, or hair eating, is a type of pica. Children or young women manifest these disorders most frequently. Because hair cannot be digested, ingested strands can become twisted and matted as they accumulate in the stomach. Trichobezoars can grow to become quite large, in which case they must be removed surgically. When hair extends past the stomach into the intestines, the condition is referred to as the Rapunzel syndrome.

Online exhibit about hairballs (National Museum of Health and Medicine)
"Hair Apparent: Rapunzel Syndrome" (Case study published in The American Journal of Psychiatry)

1918: La Grippe

Home sick from work the other day, I stumbled on this fascinating online exhibit from the National Archives about the 1918 influenza epidemic, which killed an estimated 50 million people—more than any illness in recorded history, and more people than were killed in World War I. About 25 percent of the American population contracted the flu, and in just one year, the average life expectancy of an American decreased by 12 years. flu.jpg

One of the most interesting documents from the exhibit is a list of precautions that people were advised to take to avoid contracting the disease, including:

Avoid close, stuffy, and poorly ventilated rooms—insist upon fresh air, but avoid disagreeable drafts.
Eat simple, nourishing food and drink plenty of water. Avoid constipation.
Secure at least seven hours sleep. Avoid physical fatigue.
Do not sleep or sit around in damp clothing.
Keep the feet dry.

In San Francisco, city officials fought the spread of the disease by championing gauze masks as 99% effective in preventing the flu, using the slogan: "Obey the laws, And wear the gauze. Protect your jaws from septic paws."

Visit the National Archives site for more pictures and documents related to this often forgotten disaster.

National Archives: Influenza Epidemic of 1918
American Experience: Influenza 1918

This Day in History: Jan. 12

This Day in History

1932: Hattie Wyatt Caraway of Arkansas becomes the first woman elected to the Senate.
1945: In World War II, Soviet forces launch a huge offensive against the Germans in Eastern Europe.
1997: Two of the 4 women cadets enrolled in the Citadel military academy resign, saying they'd been assaulted and sexually harassed.

Continue reading "This Day in History: Jan. 12" »

January 11, 2007

Radio City Prices... Without the Glamour

Radio%20City.jpg On the night of its grand opening, Dec. 27, 1932, Radio City Music Hall was filled with 6,200 of New York’s most prestigious citizens. People like the Rockefellers, Chryslers, and Hearsts were entertained for four hours by an elaborate 500-performer stage show involving orchestras, choirs, opera singers, ballet dancers, and showman Samuel “Roxy” Rothafel’s “Roxyettes” (now known as the Rockettes).

Yet two weeks after its grand opening, Radio City switched to movies. The Great Depression was taking its toll on ticket sales for live performances, so the art deco theater assembled "the world’s largest movie screen," measuring 70 ft by 40 ft. The first screening, on Jan. 11, 1933, was of Frank Capra’s The Bitter Tea of General Yen.

At that time, a prime time ticket (Mon-Fri, 6:00-10:30) cost .75, which would roughly equal $11.50 today. A recent Gallup Poll found that 36% of Americans think movies are too expensive today, and I have to agree. We pay the same price and hardly get Radio City...

Radio City stopped showing movies in 1979, but for those interested in seeing movies (both new and old) in classic theaters, Cinema Treasures has a great list of more than 4,000 theaters with user-submitted profiles.

Americans' Biggest Gripe About Going to the Movies: Cost (Gallup)
Classic movie theaters which currently function as first run theaters (Cinema Treasures)

Photo from Mister V ’s flickr stream (CC)

Tag, You're It!

pres_tags.jpgThis link has made the rounds before, but in the wake of President Bush's speech about troop increases in Iraq (and with another State of the Union coming up on January 23) it seems like a good time to point out Chirag Mehta's brilliant and fascinating Presidential Speeches Tag Cloud.

Mehta has taken the text of some 360 presidential speeches—from a 1776 speech by John Adams on "The Foundation of Government" through Pres. Bush's most recent SOTU—and run them through a script that assigns different weights to words according to frequency and popularity. What you see on his site are the top 100 words in each speech; words that appear more frequently are larger in size, and words that are closer to their "peak usage" are whiter in color.

A few things to look for:

  • First appearances of words in the top 100; for example, "conservation" in 1909, or "terrorism" in 1980
  • Patterns of rapid growth in word frequency; for example, "unemployment" between 1930 and 1935, or "communist" between 1951 and 1953
  • The ebb and flow of perennial favorites, especially "constitution"
  • The gradual disappearance of archaic words. The word "pecuniary" was among the top 100 words in Washington's first inaugural address; how many times do you think it will pop up in the next State of the Union?

Links: Presidential Speeches Tag Cloud (chir.ag)
State of the Union Addresses (complete text, from ThisNation.com)

This Day in History: Dec. 11

This Day in History

1805: The Michigan Territory is created.
1811: Mexican priest and revolutionary Miguel Hidalgo, leading an uprising against Spanish colonial rule, is routed near Guadalajara and is soon captured and shot.
1935: Aviator Amelia Earhart begins a flight from Honolulu to Oakland, CA, becoming the first woman to fly solo across the Pacific Ocean.
1964: Surgeon Gen. Luther Terry issues the first government report stating that smoking may be hazardous to one's health.
1973: Baseball's American League adopts the designated hitter rule on a trial basis.
2002: The first al-Qaeda prisoners taken in Afghanistan arrive in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba amidst charges of Geneva Convention violations.
2006: A special New Orleans, Louisiana commission unveils its draft proposal for the city's reconstruction after flooding from Hurricane Katrina. It proposes the demolition and abandonment of up to two-thirds of the city's prestorm area.

Continue reading "This Day in History: Dec. 11" »

January 10, 2007

(Micro)nation for Sale

sealand.jpgIf you've ever dreamed of owning your own island, why not consider upgrading your dreams to owning your own country? The Principality of Sealand, which we noted in the "Nations" chapter of the 2007 World Almanac, is for sale. The "micronation" is a steel and concrete installation located about seven miles off the English coast in the North Sea. It was built as an anti-aircraft platform during World War II. After the war, the English Royal Navy abandoned the fort, and it remained abandoned until Paddy Roy Bates claimed it in 1967, declaring himself prince.

At the time, the English border extended only three miles off the coast (later expanded to 12 miles, in 1987). Neither the British government, nor any other country, has ever recognized Sealand's independence. Sealand, however, established its own constitution, national anthem, passports, currency, and stamps.

The Bates family no longer permanently resides in Sealand. Roy's son, Michael Bates, has put Sealand up for sale. A Spanish real estate firm has listed Sealand at 750 million euros (approx. $970 million).

The Principality of Sealand (Official site)
Real estate listing for Sealand (in Spanish)

Photo of Sealand (yes, that's the whole "nation") from Octal's Flickr stream (CC)

Who's In School?

schoolroom_nightowlcity.jpg One can learn a lot about a place by looking at its schools. The National Center for Education Statistics (a World Almanac favorite) has an online search page where you can look up any U.S. public or private school in any district and get, among other bits of information, a small demographic breakdown by race and sex of the students who go there.

After rediscovering this search, of course I had to go look up every school I had either gone to, wanted to go to, or otherwise had heard of for one reason or another (such as California's Torrance High School, where they shot the exteriors for Beverly Hills, 90210). It was fun trying to remember what I could about the different kids in my classes and if the current data shows any change since then. In my case, it looks like there is a good deal more diversity today in the schools I went to as compared to when I was a wee tot. That says quite a bit about the changes in population where I grew up, which I'm sure are minor compared to other school districts.

National Center for Education Statistics links:
Search for Public Schools
Search for Private Schools

Photo from Night Owl City's Flickr stream (CC)

This Day in History: Jan. 10

This Day in History

1776: Thomas Paine's Common Sense, calling for independence from Britain, is published.
1861: Florida secedes from the Union and joins the Confederacy.
1901: Texas has its first significant oil strike.
1920: The League of Nations is founded.
1946: The UN General Assembly meets for the first time. The first man-made contact with the moon is made when a radar signal beamed at it "bounces" back in 2.4 seconds.
1984: The United States resumes full diplomatic relations with the Vatican after more than 100 years.
2003: North Korea announces its withdrawal from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
2006: Iran restarts research at an unknown number of nuclear facilities; the European Union and the U.S. condemn the move.

Continue reading "This Day in History: Jan. 10" »

January 9, 2007

The Readingest Cities in America

The annual list of America's most literate cities was released last week, and once again, Seattle was named superior overall to all other cities (with populations over 250,000) in the U.S.

Seventy cities were included on the list, based on their ranks in six key indicators of literacy, including newspaper circulation; number of bookstores; educational attainment; and library, periodical publishing, and Internet resources.

seattle.jpg The Most Literate: Top Ten
1. Seattle
2. Minneapolis
3. Washington, DC and Atlanta (tie)
5. St. Paul
6. Pittsburgh
7. Cincinnati
8. Denver
9. San Francisco
10. Portland, OR

New York City, where The World Almanac is located, is nowhere near the top 10—we dropped almost 10 slots to 42nd place—which in part explains the non-word in the title of this post. Visit the site below to find out whether or not your city can read good.

America's Most Literate Cities

Flickr photo by bartberg

The First 100 Hours and How to Track Them

That’s Congressional time folks, so don’t expect rapid fire law passing. Those 100 hours only include time spent in session and exclude time spent debating. By that rate, they should be wrapping up just before Bush gives his State of the Union address on Jan. 23. 100hours.jpg

The House had originally planned to pass four laws successively this week but President Bush's planned speech on Iraq this Wednesday has shifted the Democrats' schedule for these bills. Those laws would enact recommendations from the 9/11 commission, raise the minimum wage to $7.25 over two years, pass a law supporting research of human stem cells like the one vetoed by Bush last year (his only veto), and lower Medicare prescription drug prices.

So what will happen to these laws? Interested citizens can use Govtrack.us to keep track of the legislation they’re interested in. Search for bills by number, keyword, subject, committee, etc… then be notified through a free account when there are any changes to them. You can also track by issue or monitor the voting habits of your elected representatives. To track those initial four laws, search for H.R. 1 through H.R. 4, or click below:

  • H.R. 1: Enacting 9/11 commission recommendations
  • H.R. 2: Raising minimum wage
  • H.R. 3: Human stem cell research
  • H.R. 4: Medicare prescription drug prices

This Day in History: Jan. 9

This Day in History

1788: Connecticut enters the Union as the fifth of the original 13 states.
Shackleton_corp2866.jpg1793: French aeronaut Jean Pierre Blanchard makes the first balloon ascent in America at Philadelphia.
1861: Mississippi secedes from the Union.
1909: British explorer Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton, commanding the first announced attempt to reach the South Pole, comes within a record-breaking 156 km (97 mi) of his goal.
1945: In World War II, U.S. troops invade Luzon to begin their final push to retake the Philippines.
1964: Following anti-U.S. riots in the Canal Zone, Panama suspends relations with the United States.
1968: The Surveyor 7 space probe makes a successful soft landing on the moon.
1987: The White House releases a 1986 memo showing a link between the U.S. sale of arms to Iran and the release of Americans taken hostage in Lebanon.
2005: Palestinian voters elect Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas as president of the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Continue reading "This Day in History: Jan. 9" »

January 8, 2007

Do You Ever Look Up in the Sky, and Wonder…

space_ritual.jpgSure, there are all sorts of facts about space in the new edition of The World Almanac, but we don’t say what would happen if a satellite fell to earth. We don’t contradict claims that the moon landing was really a hoax. And we also don’t explain your chances of being sucked up by a black hole. Go to Get a Straight Answer for facts on these and many other important space issues brought to you by retired NASA astrophysicist David P. Stern. One I found particularly amusing is after the jump.

Continue reading "Do You Ever Look Up in the Sky, and Wonder…" »

'06 NFL Rookies Had an Impact

In general, there are a few rookie standouts each year in the NFL, but it seems that the 2006 rookie class was pretty good when measured in terms of immediate impact on teams (as opposed to long-term success, which is how rookie classes are normally judged). Usually it takes a season or two for a rookie to become a true pro and contribute on a regular basis. This is partly because of the greater physical demands of the pro game, and also because of the complicated play schemes that pro coaches use. Defensive linemen in particular have to go through a period of adjustment, because they generally tend to get manhandled by veteran offensive linemen down there in the trenches. This article on the NFL web site outlines some good theories on why rookies were so productive in 2006.

Continue reading "'06 NFL Rookies Had an Impact" »

This Day in History: Jan. 8

This Day in History

1815: In the Battle of New Orleans, U.S. forces led by Andrew Jackson crush the British. Neither side knew that the War of 1812 had officially ended 2 weeks earlier.
1918: In a speech to Congress, Pres. Woodrow Wilson sets out his 14 Points as a basis for a just peace in World War I.
1919: The first Socialist in the House of Representatives, Victor Louis Berger, is found guilty of violating the Espionage Act of 1917 and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
1959: In France, Charles de Gaulle takes office as the president of the newly created Fifth Republic.
1964: In his State of the Union address, Pres. Lyndon Johnson declares a War on Poverty.
1982: A 13-year-old suit brought by the Justice Dept. against AT&T is settled when the company agrees to give up its 22 local "Baby Bells."
1987: The Dow Jones industrial average closes above 2,000 for the first time.
1996: An immense two-day storm deposits up to 3 feet of snow on the Mid-Atlantic and New England states and claims 100 lives.

Continue reading "This Day in History: Jan. 8" »

January 7, 2007

This Day in History: Jan. 7

This Day in History

1761: Ahmad Shah, emir of Afghanistan, successfully battles the Marathas and the Sikhs at Panipat after invading India and capturing Delhi.
1789: The first U.S. presidential election is held, with George Washington the winner.
1929: Two epic comic strips — Tarzan and Buck Rogers , begin publication.
1942: President Roosevelt submits a $59 billion budget to Congress to help fund the war effort. He also asks for new taxes.
1979: Vietnamese troops capture Phnom Penh, overthrowing Cambodian ruler Pol Pot.
1989: Japan's Emperor Hirohito dies after ruling 62 years; he is succeeded by his son, Prince Akihito.
1999: The impeachment trial against President Bill Clinton for perjury before a federal grand jury and obstruction of justice begins in the Senate.
2003: Pres. George W. Bush proposes a tax cut worth $670 billion over ten years, calling for eliminating tax on stock dividends.

Continue reading "This Day in History: Jan. 7" »

January 6, 2007

This Day in History: Jan. 6

This Day in History

1912: New Mexico is admitted to the Union as the 47th state.
1941: In a speech to Congress, Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt promulgates the Four Freedoms: freedom of speech and religion and freedom from want and fear.
1967: In the Vietnam War, U.S. and South Vietnamese troops launch a major offensive against the Viet Cong in the Mekong River delta.
1998: The unmanned Lunar Prospector space probe is launched to search for frozen water on the moon.

Continue reading "This Day in History: Jan. 6" »

January 5, 2007

"Unbreakable" Sports Records

290849024_6ca7212b31_m.jpgHere's a provocative page straight from the 2007 World Almanac and Book of Facts: our "Editor's Picks" of sports records least likely to be broken, in football, baseball, basketball, and a grab-bag of miscellaneous sports.

The idea for this came to us late in the process of working on the new edition, but it's turned out to be one of the most talked-about features in our interviews about The World Almanac 2007. It's not just the fact that every sports fan wants to weigh in about records that should be on the list, or records that they think may actually be broken—it's also that this list raises some interesting questions about how professional sports of all kinds have changed over the years.

In some cases, the overall level of skill and competition in a given sport has increased so dramatically, it's nearly impossible for individual players of the present to surpass these exceptional accomplishments. Other records are likely to stand simply because the playing seasons in some sports—and the careers of most athletes—are significantly shorter than they were decades ago.

So let's open this one up for discussion. Which of your favorite record-holders did we omit? Which active athletes are most likely to set "unbreakable" records of their own? And what are the odds of a future U.S. President breaking into this list? Get the complete list—and find out which former President made the cut—after the jump.

Continue reading ""Unbreakable" Sports Records" »

That Plonker is One Mucky Pup...

oed.jpgNow that you have this year’s assignment on banished words, how about helping to rewrite the dictionary?

The folks at The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) are trying to find the earliest verifiable usage of every word in English (currently around 600,000, according to their count). In connection with their BBC show Balderdash & Piffle, they have released a list of words of uncertain origin (e.g., “round robin”) as well as words already defined and sourced that they suspect might have an earlier usage (e.g., “identity theft,” 1991 Boston Globe article). Amateur etymologists are encouraged to join the search for the earliest usage of any of these words; books, magazines, movies, sound recordings, letters, and other dated material are all acceptable sources.

The OED is also seeking submissions of new words. Though you might want to check out their updates before you get too excited—“texting” has already been added.

[Note: plonker, mucky pup]

More 2006 Lists: Banished Words

dictionary.jpgTired of hearing about "TomKat" and "Brangelina"? Sick of commercials telling you to "ask your doctor" to prescribe medication you don't need? Both of these common language nuisances were cited on the tongue-in-cheek 32nd annual List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-Use, Over-Use and General Uselessness compiled by Lake Superior State University. Culled from about 4,500 submissions by language-saavy individuals, this year's list also includes "awesome" (which first received a temporary ban in 1984), "gone missing," and "undocumented alien," which was cited by one contributor as being too euphemistic: "It's like saying a drug dealer is an 'undocumented pharmacist,'" said John Varga of Westfield, New Jersey. The phrase "we're pregnant" was purged from the lexicon as well—but only for 9 months.

The word "boasts" was cited for its overuse in real estate classified ads by contributor Morris Conklin of Portugal, perturbed by the frequent appearance of phrases like "master bedroom boasts his-and-her fireplaces," but not "bathroom apologizes for cracked linoleum,' or 'kitchen laments pathetic placement of electrical outlets.'"

You can contribute to next year's list—already a work in progress—by going here.

[UPDATE: The link to this year's list is fixed now—sorry!]

Photo credit: squacco on flickr

This Day In History: Jan. 5

This Day In History

1492: Spanish forces capture the city of Granada from the Moors, ending 700 years of Muslim rule in Spain.
1777: The British under Charles Cornwallis recapture Trenton from George Washington's army in the Second Battle of Trenton.
1788: Georgia enters the Union as the fourth state.
1959: The USSR launches the moon probe Luna 1, which becomes the first spacecraft to orbit the sun.
1974: Pres. Richard Nixon signs a measure setting highway speeds at a 55 mph maximum.
1992: Russia lifts state price controls on most goods and services—a major economic reform.
2006: A methane gas explosion in a Sago, West Virginia, coal mine traps 13 miners, 12 of whom have died by the time rescuers find them.

Continue reading "This Day In History: Jan. 5" »

January 4, 2007

Lady Speaker

Pelosi.jpg At noon today, a quorum was established in the House to establish the 110th Congress. Shortly thereafter (O.K., the quorum took 35 minutes), Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) nominated Nancy Pelosi as House Speaker amidst much cheering and applause. John Boehner (R-OH) was nominated minority leader. After an hour-long vote by manual roll call, John Boehner passed the gavel to Nancy Pelosi, newly elected as the first female House Speaker and the highest ranking elected female official in the nation’s history (she’s second in line to the presidency, behind the vice president).

Today's program is full of a lot of pomp and hobnobbing. Not much is accomplished. The "100 Hours" of legislation does not begin until Tuesday (look for a post on legislation then).

First up, Rush Holt (D-NJ) asked for Speaker Pelosi's support of Christine Jennings in her ongoing challenge of the election she lost to Vern Buchanan (R) in Florida's district 13, where 18,000 votes cast by electronic ballot registered no vote. Pelosi approved. Republican Conference Chairman Adam Putnam (FL) disapproved. This is the only election result still actively contested; stay tuned.

They are currently adopting the new House Rules (full text; summary) that include several notable changes:

  • In response to the Jack Abramoff scandal, gifts and trips paid for by lobbyists are no longer allowed without prior approval.
  • House members will be allowed 24 hours to read legislation.
  • They can not be prevented from attending committee hearings.
  • They will have to list earmarks and benefits put into any bill and make them public.
  • The budget can not allow the federal deficit to increase over 5- or 10-year period.

Edward's Untimely Death Series: Entry #2

nesbit.jpgStanford White (1853-1906) was an American architect who—as part of the architectural firm McKim, Mead and White—built such noted structures as the Boston Public Library, Washington Arch in New York’s Washington Square Park, and various other buildings in New York City, as well as many private residences. White specialized in adaptations of older styles, notably that of the Italian Renassance. In 1906 White was shot and killed on the roof of New York City’s Madison Square Garden by the Pittsburgh millionaire Harry Kendall Thaw (1871-1947). The murder, one of the most sensational in the annals of U.S. society, resulted from the discovery by Thaw that his wife, the actress Evelyn Nesbit (1885-1967), had been involved in a love affair with White.

Read more: Murder on the Rooftop Garden (crimelibrary.com)

The World Almanac E-Newsletter: January 2007

wa-e-newsletter-web.jpg What time is it? It's World Almanac E-Newsletter time—featuring a travel guide to Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan; a special feature on new leadership at the United Nations; information on the early history of the football helmet; and as always, obituaries, events, and e-newsletter editor-in-chief Edward Thomas' always-entertaining "Links of the Month." Click on the link below to read the latest version online, and get future editions delivered straight to your inbox by sending an e-mail to newsletter@waegroup.com with the subject line "SUBSCRIBE."

The World Almanac E-newsletter, January 2007
E-newsletter Archives

This Day In History: Jan 4

This Day In History

1896: Utah is admitted to the Union as the 45th state.
1964: Pope Paul VI becomes the first pope to leave Italy since 1809 when he flies to Jordan and Israel.
1965: In his State of the Union message, Pres. Lyndon Johnson outlines the Great Society program.
1974: Pres. Richard Nixon rejects subpoenas issued by the Senate Watergate Committee for White House tapes and documents.
1980: Pres. Jimmy Carter announces economic sanctions against the Soviet Union in retaliation for the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
1995: When the 104th Congress opens, Bob Dole (R, KS) becomes Senate majority leader and Newt Gingrich (R, GA) becomes House speaker.
2004: An Afghan grand council, or loyal jirga, approves a new constitution.
2006: Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffers a major stroke; Deputy PM Ehud Olmert assumes powers.

Continue reading "This Day In History: Jan 4" »

January 3, 2007

A Deadly Year for Journalists

reporters-without-borders.jpgAccording to Reporters Without Borders, a media watchdog/media advocacy organization, 2006 was the deadliest year for journalists since 1994. A total of 81 journalists and 32 media assistants were killed while on the job in 2006, up from 63 journalists and 5 assistants in 2005. The most dangerous place for journalists in 2006 was Iraq, where 64 journalists and assistants were killed (139 total have been killed since fighting began in 2003). But the second-most dangerous place for reporters was a little closer to home. Nine journalists were killed in Mexico while investigating drug trafficking or violent social unrest.

Reporters Without Borders notes that their assessments may differ from those issued by other organizations because Reporters Without Borders counts journalists' deaths only if they are certain that the deaths were job-related (some investigations into journalist deaths have yet to be concluded).

You can check out the press release here. It includes more facts about journalists including job-related arrests, imprisonments, and numbers of media outlets censored. It also provides a little more background into some of the issues and challenges that journalists are facing.

Press Freedom in 2006 (Reporters Without Borders, full report PDF)

Muslim, Buddhist House Representatives to Add to Congressional Diversity

When the 110th Congress convenes for the first time on Thursday, Jan. 4, a more religiously diverse Congress will be getting down to work in Washington.

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) will be the first Muslim in Congress. (Ellison will also be the first African-American congressional member to come from Minnesota, though as one article noted, Ellison had said in an interview before the elections, “I haven't put the emphasis on my own personal identity.”) Raised Catholic, Ellison converted to Islam as a 19-year-old college student.

Reps. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Hank Johnson of (D-GA) will be the first Buddhists in Congress. Hirono was raised a Buddhist; Johnson converted about 30 years ago. Also worth noting is the fact that incoming Democratic majority leader Sen. Henry Reid (NV) will be the highest-ranked Mormon in congressional history.

Of all congressional members, roughly 29% identified themselves as Roman Catholic, the highest figure for any denomination. Only six members of Congress, all Democratic House representatives, did not cite a religious affiliation. A full list of the members of the 110th Congress and their religious affiliations, compiled by the group Americans for Religious Liberty, is available for download as a pdf.

This Day in History: Jan. 3

This Day In History

1777: George Washington defeats the British under Lord Cornwallis at Princeton, NJ.
1959: Alaska is admitted to the Union as the 49th state.
1961: The United States severs diplomatic relations with Cuba.
1990: Panama's Manuel Noriega surrenders to U.S. officials, after having taken refuge in the Vatican mission following the U.S. troop invasion.
1993: Pres. George Bush and Russian Pres. Boris Yeltsin sign the START II disarmament pact.
2004: An unmanned NASA spacecraft touches down on Mars and begins transmitting detailed pictures back to Earth.
2006: Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleads guilty to three felony counts of conspiracy to bribe public officials, fraud, and tax evasion, and promises to cooperate with an investigation into his dealings with members of Congress.

Continue reading "This Day in History: Jan. 3" »

January 2, 2007

Livestock's Long Shadow

livestock.jpg The UN Food and Agriculture Organization's ominously-titled report, Livestock's Long Shadow, went largely unnoticed when it was first published in November 2006. The report details the environmental impacts of the rapid increase of livestock agriculture--with some startling figures. For instance, who would have guessed that our lust for red meat was contributing more to global warming (estimates show it causes about 18% of global warming effect) than global transportation emissions? Or that livestock grazing occupies about 26 percent of Earth's land surfaces, and 33 percent of all arable land?

The prosperity of the developed world--as well as the population explosion of the last half-century--means that demand for livestock has never been higher, and will likely do nothing but increase, if current projections hold. However, thanks to a New York Times editorial and subsequent mentions on environmental blogs, the issues raised in the report seem to be gaining some wider exposure.

Livestock's Long Shadow (full report, PDF)
Livestock Impacts on the Environment (FAO Spotlight; report summary)
Livestock a Major Threat to Environment (FAO newsroom)
Meat and the Planet (New York Times, Dec. 27, 2006)
Livestock's Long Shadow (Gristmill; environmental news blog)

Choose Your Own Antarctic Adventure

halley.jpg Happy New Year! Did you make a resolution? Does it involve adventure? More ice? Sunlight for only half the year? Or perhaps you’re ready to finally pursue your dream career as a Molluscan Palaeontologist.

The British Antarctic Survey has a quiz to help determine whether you’re fit for a life on the desert continent. Here’s a sample:

The Supply Ship - RRS Ernest Shackleton is unable to get to your station and re-supply due to heavy sea ice. The variety of food is beginning to run short and although arrangements have been made to get provisions to the station by air, the station compliment is starting to get frustrated with the lack of fresh fruit and meat. The chef is beginning to exhaust his repertoire of usually wonderful meals. What is your reaction likely to be?

My answer, eat the new guy, wasn’t on the list.

Not cut out for the real thing? Webcams!

This Day in History: Jan. 2

Born This Day

1727: James Wolfe, British general in the French and Indian War (Westerham, England; died 1759)
1752: Philip Freneau, poet (New York, NY; died 1832)
1915: John Hope Franklin, historian (Rentisville, OK)
1920: Isaac Asimov, science fiction writer and author (near Smolensk, Russia; died 1992)
1936: Roger Miller, country singer/songwriter (Fort Worth, TX; died 1992)
1942: Dennis Hastert, IL representative and speaker of the House (Aurora, IL); Henry Hugh Shelton, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Speed, NC)

Continue reading "This Day in History: Jan. 2" »

January 1, 2007

This Day In History: Jan. 1

Rye_catcher.jpgThe first day of the year marks an enormous number of milestones among the "Nations of the World"—including the 1801 union of Ireland with Great Britain; the 1898 consolidation of Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, Manhattan, and the Bronx; the 1900 joining of six British colonies into the Commonwealth of Australia; and the 1958 "birthday" of the European Community (now the EU).

It is also the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation (1863), freeing "all slaves in areas still in rebellion"—as well as the date on which John Mitchell, H.R. Haldeman, and John Ehrlichman were found guilty of cover-up charges in the Watergate scandal (1975).

When you're done celebrating those notable dates, why not send a birthday greeting to J.D. Salinger (born in 1919 in New York City)? That is, if you can find an address or phone number for the famously reclusive author...

Continue reading "This Day In History: Jan. 1" »

About January 2007

This page contains all entries posted to The World Almanac in January 2007. They are listed from newest to oldest.

December 2006 is the previous archive.

February 2007 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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