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March 2007 Archives

March 30, 2007

Vaccines in the Global Fight

DPRK_measles.jpg News this morning that European pharmaceutical company GSK had developed a low-cost vaccine "that may never cover its research costs" got me thinking about the industry and its presence in impoverished countries. The vaccine, which GSK is in the process of registering, protects against meningitis A and C and will be sold only in Africa.

In 2002, an estimated 57 million deaths worldwide were attributed to vaccine-preventable diseases, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Of that number, about 26,000 deaths were from meningitis.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has compiled a time line related to vaccines. It spans half a century, from the licensing of a polio vaccine, in 1955, to the 2005 declaration that rubella was no longer endemic in the U.S.

The World Almanac 2007 also has a guide to common infectious diseases and the number of cases of each that occur in the U.S. annually (pp. 148-49).

Links: "New Low Cost Vaccine for Africa" (BBC)
Vaccines Timeline (CDC)
Development of New Vaccines Fact Sheet (WHO)

Photo: North Korean schoolchildren are vaccinated against measles, UNICEF.

This Day In History: Mar. 30

This Day in History

1282: In the Massacre of the Sicilian Vespers, Sicilians rise up against their French king, Charles I, and his soldiers and officials.
1492: During the Spanish Inquisition, the Jews are expelled from Spain.
1842: Dr. Crawford W. Long becomes the first physician to use ether during surgery.
1856: The Treaty of Paris ends the Crimean War, a conflict between Turkey--supported by Great Britain, France, and Sardinia--and Russia.
1867: The United States buys Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million.
1972: North Vietnamese forces launch their biggest attacks in 4 years across the demilitarized zone.
1981: Pres. Ronald Reagan is shot and seriously wounded--as are Press Sec. James Brady, a Secret Service agent and a policeman--by John W. Hinckley Jr.
1999: Two balloonists, Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones, complete the first nonstop balloon circumnavigation of the globe.

Continue reading "This Day In History: Mar. 30" »

March 29, 2007

Great Museums: Celebrities Edition

Celeb%20Museums.jpgBurt Reynolds & Friends (Jupiter, Florida): The mission of the Burt Reynolds and Friends Museum is to preserve the history of the cultural contributions of Burt Reynolds, and provide educational opportunities to young actors and filmmakers.

Long Island Music Hall of Fame (future home in Long Island, New York): “...dedicated to the idea that Long Island's musical heritage is an important resource to be celebrated and preserved for future generations.” Members include Perry Como, George Gershwin, Joan Jett, Billy Joel, and Twisted Sister.

Museum of Celebrity Leftovers (Kingsand in Cornwall, England): “The Old Boatstore cafe in Kingsand has started displaying the leftovers of the likes of Pete Doherty and David Bailey… Now the food scraps from an array of famous names are on show in the Museum of Celebrity Leftovers, displayed under matching glass domes on a specially-erected shelf.”

Dr. Nick's Memories of Elvis touring exhibit (locked in an airport hangar in Nevada): “Includes a stuffed dog, a desk carved by Elvis' Uncle Vester, a .38 Smith & Wesson, the laryngeal scope used to examine the King's throat, and the official red strobe light issued to Dr. Nick in case he needed to race to Graceland for an emergency.”

Photo from llahbocaj's Flickr photostream

Calling All Librarians...

readingroom.jpgFirst, a smattering of World Almanac references from blogging librarians. Thanks to these folks and many others who regularly reference this blog and the World Almanac on their sites:

Lore Librarian
MrLibrarian
Subversive Librarian
...and the less-entertainingly named NYS SBDC Research Network

We've always known that the book holds a special place in the hearts (and ready reference shelves) of librarians. But strangely enough, we don't get many specific content suggestions from librarians, who I imagine are more intimately familiar with the contents of the World Almanac than the average reader...and those average readers have a lot to say about what we put into the book, and what we take out of it, each year.

So here's a request for the librarians in our audience: tell us what parts of the World Almanac you use most often... or what parts you've never used in all your years behind the reference desk... or what facts and statistics you think we've neglected for too long.

We're just getting into "Almanac season" now, mapping out the contents of the 2008 edition (yes, we do start this early in the year), and as always there is much debate about how to keep this classic reference book interesting, informative, useful, and relevant in the digital age. So let us know what you think, either in the comments or by e-mail, to cjoyce [at] waegroup.com. And spread the word!

Image from Mr. Guybrarian's Flickr stream

This Day In History: Mar. 29

This Day in History

1867: England's Parliament passes an act establishing the Dominion of Canada, uniting Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick.
1951: Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and Morton Sobell are found guilty of conspiracy to commit wartime espionage.
1961: The 23rd Amendment is ratified, giving residents of the District of Columbia the right to vote in presidential elections.
1971: A court-martial jury convicts Lt. William L. Calley Jr. of premeditated murder of 22 South Vietnamese at Mylai.
1973: The last U.S. troops leave Vietnam .
1999: The Dow Jones industrial average closes above 10,000 for the first time.
2001: In response to a gruesome Passover suicide bombing that killed 19 and wounded 100, Israeli Prime Min. Ariel Sharon orders the military to raid Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat's West Bank compound in Ramallah.
2003: A suicide bomber blows himself up in his taxi near Najaf, Iraq , killing 4 U.S. soldiers. Two U.S. troops are killed in an ambush in Afghanistan.

Continue reading "This Day In History: Mar. 29" »

March 28, 2007

Dice-K and Female Umps

Two articles that all baseball fans must read:

The first is about Daisuke Matsuzaka, or “Dice-K,” the Japanese pitcher whom the Boston Red Sox paid a king’s ransom just to talk to, and then a queen's ransom to actually sign him. The superb Sports Illustrated article explains the differences between the treatment of pitchers in Japan and in the United States. For instance, Japanese pitchers for the most part aren’t kept to a strict pitch count, whereas in the U.S., every ball a pitcher throws is counted (even when they throw to first base). Also, Dice-K doesn’t ice his arm after games, but MLB pitchers will ice their arms after doing anything from throwing a ball to reaching for a glass of water. (The writer of the piece, Tom Verducci, recently posted a little follow-up to this piece that somewhat dispels the myth of Dice-K’s “gyroball.”)

The other article is about female umpires in pro baseball. According to this Newsday article, umpire Ria Cortesio will be calling the March 29 exhibition game between the Chicago Cubs and the Arizona Diamondbacks. It’ll be the first time in 20 years that a woman has called a pro exhibition game. The article also explains how umpires rise through the ranks. Fascinating stuff about the people behind the plate calling the games.

Opening day April 1! Woo hoo!!!

"The Riddle," (Sports Illustrated, March 20, 2007)
"Female Ump to Work Exhibition Game," (Newsday, March 27)
"The Myth Behind the Man," (Sports Illustrated, March 27, 2007)

Edward’s Untimely Death Series: Entry #5

180px-Anne_boleyn.jpgAnne Boleyn (1507-1536) secretly became the second wife of Henry VIII, king of England, in January 1533, several months before Thomas Cranmer, archbishop of Canterbury, pronounced Henry’s divorce from his first wife, Catherine of Aragón. The chief reason for the divorce was that Catherine had failed to produce a male heir. Anne should have taken that as a bad omen! The daughter of Thomas Boleyn (1477-1539), Anne spent the years 1519-1521 at the French court, before returning to England where she was courted by the heir to the earldom of Northumberland and the king himself. Anne was at that time a young and beautiful lady-in-waiting of the queen.

Anne was crowned in June 1533 and gave birth to the future queen Elizabeth I in September of that year. On May 2, 1536, Anne was imprisoned in the Tower of London on charges of adultery with her brother, three gentlemen of the privy chamber, and a musician of the court and of conspiring with these men against the King’s life. The four commoners were tried on May 12, and Anne and her brother on May 15; all of the accused were convicted of high treason. Whether Anne was guilty of these crimes has never been determined. Anne’s uncle, Thomas Howard, 3rd duke of Norfolk, presided over the judges who condemned her to death. On May 17, the musician was hanged, and the other four beheaded. Two days later, Anne was beheaded.

One day later, Henry became engaged to Jane Seymour, and he married her 10 days later.

This Day In History: Mar. 28

This Day in History

1776: Juan Bautista de Anza and 247 colonists found future city of San Francisco , CA, then located in Spanish territory.
1854: In the Crimean War, Britain declares war on France and Russia.
1881: The "Greatest Show on Earth" is formed when P.T. Barnum and James A. Bailey agree to merge their circuses.
1939: The Spanish Civil War ends with the republic's surrender to the rebel forces of Francisco Franco.
1979: Radioactive material is released when a partial meltdown occurs on Three Mile Island near Middletown, PA.
1982: In El Salvador, voters turn out in large numbers to give right-wing parties a majority in their new Constituent Assembly.

Continue reading "This Day In History: Mar. 28" »

March 27, 2007

TV, Now With More Channels Than Ever

cable.jpg Last Monday Nielsen reported the average U.S. home received a record 104.2 television channels in 2006. Take that, Bruce Springsteen and your 57 channels! Yet in an average week, households only watched 15.7 of those channels for at least 10 minutes.

Whether people need to accept all those channels in a lump package is a hot issue. Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin has been outspoken about giving consumers channel-by-channel or “A la carte” cable selection. Last February, he countered his predecessor, former chairman Michael Powell, by reporting that “a la carte and increased tiering could offer consumers greater choice and the opportunity to lower their bills.” But only Congress can make that possible by changing the 1992 Cable Act. The a la carte option has horrified people in the cable industry since it would upend their entire finance system for niche channels (goodbye five versions of ESPN). Some advocacy groups, including the conservative Parents Television Council want to give viewers the right to refuse channels whose content they deem indecent.

[Last year, 86.2% of U.S. households subscribed to cable. See pages 249-251 in the 2007 World Almanac for more TV-related stats.]

Average U.S. Home Now Receives A Record 104.2 TV Channels, According to Nielsen

TV Noise 3 from Danagraves flickr stream

This Day In History: Mar. 27

This Day in History

1306: Robert Bruce is crowned king of Scotland at Scone.
1625: Britain's King James I dies and is succeeded by Charles I.
1814: At the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, Gen. Andrew Jackson wins a decisive victory over the Creek Indian Nation, ending the Creek War (1813-14) and opening Alabama and parts of Georgia to white settlement.
1847: In the war with Mexico, 12,000 U.S. troops take Vera Cruz.
1958: Nikita Khrushchev becomes premier of the Soviet Union.
1964: A 9.2-magnitude earthquake strikes Alaska , killing 131.
1977: In the world's worst airline disaster, 2 Boeing 747s collide on the runway in the Canary Islands, killing 582.
1981: The United Mine Workers go on strike against the Bituminous Coal Operators Association.
2002: Pres. George W. Bush signs a sweeping campaign finance bill into law, as opponents vow to challenge its constitutionality in court.
2002: A Palestinian suicide bomber kills 19 Israelis who are attending a Passover dinner at a hotel and wounds 100 others.

Continue reading "This Day In History: Mar. 27" »

March 26, 2007

This Day In History: Mar. 26

This Day in History

1962: The Supreme Court backs "one-man one vote" apportionment of seats in state legislatures.
1979: Israeli Prime Min. Menachem Begin and Egyptian Pres. Anwar Sadat sign the Camp David peace accord.
1989: The Soviet Union holds its first nationwide parliamentary elections.
1993: The UN Security Council votes to send a peacekeeping force of 30,000 to Somalia.
1971: Leaders of East Pakistan declare the region independent as Bangladesh while in the midst of a savage war against the central Pakistani government.
1997: After an apparent mass suicide, 39 members of the Heaven's Gate religious cult are found dead in a large house in Rancho Santa Fe, CA.
1999: Dr. Jack Kevorkian is convicted of 2d-degree murder for injecting a fatal drug into a fatally ill man.
2003: U.S. forces kill 1,000 Iraqi troops in a 36-hour battle in Najaf.

Continue reading "This Day In History: Mar. 26" »

March 25, 2007

This Day In History: Mar. 25

This Day in History

1807: England's Parliament abolishes the slave trade.
1911: A New York City building containing the Triangle Shirtwaist Co. factory catches fire, killing 146 workers, mostly young immigrant women.
1933: The German Reichstag gives Adolf Hitler dictatorial powers.
1957: Signing a treaty in Rome, six European nations form the European Economic Community, a precursor organization to the European Union.
1975: Saudi Arabia's King Faisal is assassinated by his nephew, Prince Faisal ibn Musad.
1982: Wayne Gretzky becomes the first ice hockey player in the NHL to score 200 points in a season.
2001: The Macedonian military launches a ground offensive against ethnic Albanian rebels.
2003: British forces participating in the invasion of Iraq report the capture of the Gulf port city of Umm Qasr.

Continue reading "This Day In History: Mar. 25" »

March 24, 2007

This Day In History: Mar. 24

This Day in History

1603: England's Queen Elizabeth I dies and is succeeded by James I.
1882: German scientist Robert Koch discovers the tuberculosis bacillus.
1989: One of the largest oil spills in U.S. history--11 million gallons--occurs when the Exxon Valdez runs aground in Alaska's Prince William Sound.
1996: U.S. astronaut Shannon Lucid begins what will be a 188-day stay on the Russian space station Mir , the first female U.S. astronaut to live on a space station. She broke the record for longest stay in space for a U.S. astronaut.
1998: Mitchell Johnson, 13, and Andrew Golden, 11, are arrested after allegedly killing 4 schoolgirls and a teacher outside a Jonesboro, AR middle school.
1999: NATO mounts its first military operation against a sovereign country, Yugoslavia , launching air attacks to induce a Serbian pullback from Kosovo.
2002: Actress Halle Berry makes history when she becomes the first African-American woman to win the Academy Award for Best Actress; she was nominated for her role in the prison drama Monster's Ball.
2005: Opposition protesters in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan storm the central government compound, culminating their nationwide revolt against President Askar Akayev.

Continue reading "This Day In History: Mar. 24" »

March 23, 2007

The Top 1,000 Books

hamlet.jpg The Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) maintains a fascinating list of the top 1,000 works "most widely held by libraries," complete with cover art and links to help readers find each volume in a local library. Here's the top ten:
  1. Bible [Library holdings: 796,882 Bibliographic records: 93,567]
  2. Census (United States) [Library holdings: 460,628 Bibliographic records: 10,617]
  3. Mother Goose [Library holdings: 67,663 Bibliographic records: 2,036]
  4. Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri [Library holdings: 62,414 Bibliographic records: 2,917]
  5. Odyssey, Homer [Library holdings: 45,551 Bibliographic records: 2,087]
  6. Iliad, Homer [Library holdings: 44,093 Bibliographic records: 2,526]
  7. Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain [Library holdings: 42,724 Bibliographic records: 1,132]
  8. Lord of the Rings [trilogy], J. R. R. Tolkien [Library holdings: 40,907 Bibliographic records: 685]
  9. Hamlet, William Shakespeare [Library holdings: 39,521 Bibliographic records: 2,008]
  10. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll [Library holdings: 39,277 Bibliographic records: 1,942]
Hit the jump for highlights and oddities from the list, some insight into how the list was compiled, and the answer to the really important question: Where's The World Almanac?

Continue reading "The Top 1,000 Books" »

No Impact Man

beavan.jpg Yesterday, the New York Times published an article that quickly jumped to the top of the 'most-emailed' list. The story profiles Colin Beavan, who, with his wife and daughter, are making scads of sacrifices (think: in-house composting and no toilet paper) to live a "no impact" lifestyle and reduce their ecological footprints. Now, this is something that's been done by others in the past—insert obligatory reference to kooky commune-dwellers here—but not, to my knowledge, on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. This makes the process different when you consider a lot of the changes the family has made—they've walked up many, many flights of stairs, they have no backyard for the compost heap (it's in the kitchen), and they're limited to eating only locally-grown food even though there's only so much that can be produced locally in a New York December.

Check out the article and visit Beavan's blog at the links below. Or measure your own impact on the earth with an ecological footprint quiz. You can also read the first chapter of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ The Consumer’s Guide to Effective Environmental Choices online, which contains a less life-altering approach to reducing our negative impact on the environment.

The Year Without Toilet Paper
No Impact Man blog
My Footprint quiz
The Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices

Photo of the Conlin-Beavan family from the No Impact Man blog.

This Day In History: Mar. 23

This Day in History

1775: In a speech to the Virginia Convention, Patrick Henry says, "Give me liberty, or give me death!"
1965: Virgil Grissom and John Young orbit the earth 3 times in the Gemini 3 spacecraft.
1983: President Ronald Reagan announces plans for a Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) for missile defense, soon dubbed "Star Wars."
Barney Clark dies in Salt Lake City, UT, 16 weeks after receiving an artificial heart.:
1989: Two scientists claim they have achieved "cold fusion"-- nuclear fusion at room temperature.
2001: The U.S. expels 40 Russian diplomats in retaliation for the recent discovery that FBI agent Robert Hanssen had been spying for the Russians for years.
2003: 5 U.S. troops are captured and 7 killed when a supply vehicle is ambushed near Nasiriyah, Iraq.
U.S. forces accidentally down a British fighter jet in Iraq , killing the two-man crew.:
2004: At hearings of the 9/11 Commission, Sec. of State Powell and Defense Sec. Rumsfeld testify that intelligence available at the time could not have prevented the 9/11 attacks.

Continue reading "This Day In History: Mar. 23" »

March 22, 2007

More Fun for Quant Jocks

We're all hunkered down and hard at work on the 2008 World Almanac for Kids, so I don't have nearly enough time to play around with this stuff... but for those of you with more time on your hands, some new data visualization toys:

ME-Tag%20Cloud.jpg IBM's Many Eyes continues to expand their already impressive lineup of visualization tools, most recently with a tag cloud option. Upload any text you like, and get an instant cloud showing frequency of single words or two-word combinations. I'm hoping for a modification to this that lets you chart frequency changes over time, like Chirag Mehta's cool presidential speeches analysis tool. But in the meantime, click on the image at right to see a quick cloud generated from the U.S. Constitution.

Self-proclaimed "YouTube for data visualization" Swivel has also beefed up its services slightly, first with the ability to embed images in graphs (mostly useless, but pretty), and now with a "Swivel It" bookmarklet that greatly simplifies the process of sending data from Google Spreadsheets to Swivel.

Links:
Many Eyes
IBM's Many Eyes App After One Month (Read/Write Web, March 5, 2007)

Swivel
Numbers...You're Swimming In Them (PDF; Fast Company, March 2007)

This Day In History: Mar. 22

This Day in History

1622: Indians attack the English colony in Jamestown , VA, and 350 colonists (of about 2000) die.
1765: England's Parliament enacts the Stamp Act, requiring revenue stamps to help fund royal troops stationed in the American colonies.
1947: The Loyalty Program is established by executive order, requiring security clearance for all executive-branch employees.
1960: Arthur Schawlow and Charles Townes receive the first patent for a laser.
1972: The Senate approves the Equal Rights Amendment and sends it to the states for ratification.
1995: Russian cosmonaut Valery Polyakov returns to Earth from Mir after a record 439 days in space.
2004: Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin is killed by an Israeli missile strike in Gaza.

Continue reading "This Day In History: Mar. 22" »

March 21, 2007

Shopping for the Digital Camera of Your Dreams

After years of shunning digital camera technology in favor of film, I recently broke down and bought a new digital SLR camera. As with all of my electronic equipment purchases, I did a lot of super-charged and obsessive research. camerafree.jpgFirst I sat down and figured out how I was going to use the device (people, places, lighting). I spoke with a few professional photographers and regular folk who own digital cameras. I read just about every product review and digital photography site I could find. Then I went into the store and test fired a few. Of course having handled my prospective purchases, I was forced to go back and review all the camera literature I had read to compare my opinions with those of the reviewers. The whole process took several months, and I think I lost weight.

One of the better camera research tools I came across was this handy-dandy questionnaire on www.imaging-resource.com. In my opinion, it does a particularly good job at helping you to narrow down your choices. It’s a bit on the long side, but it’s thorough. It asks everything from price range, to what you want to shoot, to what brands you generally like. It even gets into a good amount of the technical nitty gritty.

I pretty much knew which camera I was going to buy, but this questionnaire helped to confirm my opinion. So if you’re looking to purchase a digital camera, or you simply want to see if the device you’re shooting with is the digital camera of your dreams, check out the questionnaire at the links below.

Imaging Resource Digital Camera Advisor questionnnaire
Imaging Resource home page

Plan Your Wait

Airport_security.jpg.jpg I recently discovered that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has a website of Security Checkpoint Wait Times. Though the information on the site is based on historic data, it might nevertheless provide some solace to frequent fliers.

After entering your departure airport, day of the week, and time of flight, the website will pull up estimates (average and maximum minutes) of the length of time you might spend going through security. Even better, estimates are provided for all the security checkpoints in an airport. So even if you have to be at the airport during peak hours, you might be able to breeze your way through a less popular security checkpoint.

Terminal 3, Checkpoint 7A, here I come!

Link: TSA Security Checkpoint Wait Times

Photo: Security at Dulles Airport from gisarah's Flickr photostream

This Day In History: Mar. 21

This Day in History

1804: The Napoleonic Code, the basis of many European and Latin American legal systems, is approved in France.
1918 : In World War I , the 2d Battle of the Somme begins with the launch of a German offensive against British lines.
1960: Almost 70 blacks protesting apartheid are killed by government troops in Sharpeville, South Africa.
1965: Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. begins his march from Selma to Montgomery, AL, to demand federal protection of blacks' voting rights.
1984: Canada and northern European nations sign an agreement to significantly lower sulfur dioxide emissions to reduce acid rain.
1990: Namibia attains independence.
2003: U.S. forces capture oil fields near Basra, Iraq.

Continue reading "This Day In History: Mar. 21" »

March 20, 2007

Give and Take

lenny.jpg For the last month or so, nearly every day on my way to work, I've seen this advertisement on the subway, which reads: "Jerry Orbach gave his heart and soul to acting, and the gift of sight to two New Yorkers." The ad, which encourages people to register to become eye donors, includes a picture of the late song-and-dance man, best known for his long run on TV's Law & Order.

So organ donation was on my mind when I read this story last week. Apparently South Carolina lawmakers are considering offering inmates up to 180 days off of their sentences as incentive to voluntarily donate organs or bone marrow. Obviously, there is a shortage of viable organs donated for those in need—as of last Friday, there were about 95,000 people waiting for transplants in the U.S. alone—but there are clearly ethical issues concerning a program like this as well.

Click the links below for more information about organ donation and those waiting for transplants. (The myths link addresses serious concerns, in addition to that strangely pervasive urban legend about waking up in a bathtub full of ice...)

Organ Donation Statistics (customizable)
Myths About Organ Donation

Related: New Trend in Organ Donation Raises Questions

Jerry Orbach photo from kathryn's Flickr page

NFL Draft: Drafting for the 3-4

Baseball spring training is going on, and my three fantasy league auctions are fast-approaching. The men's and women's NCAA Division I Basketball Tournaments are currently being played out. There’s also a little thing called the NBA where teams are fighting for playoff spots. With all this stuff going on, you’d think I’d be able to stay off football at least until the April 28-29 draft. Impossible.

A while back in our World Almanac E-newsletter, I wrote two small pieces explaining the nuances of the two most commonly used base defenses in the NFL— the 4-3 and the 3-4 alignments. Major sports sites are coming up with mock NFL drafts almost daily, and it seems that different teams' base defenses are getting bigger play when it comes to predicting which college players they'll take. More NFL teams nowadays run the 3-4, which means that there's a bigger market for those “hybrid” players who can fit into the scheme. For a little more on this, click over to this excellent article on NFL.com by analyst Pat Kirwan. He gives a very concise explanation of how different teams employ the 3-4 scheme along with a brief rundown of which college players entering the draft could do well in a 3-4 scheme.

Kirwan's article is well thought out and authoritative, but I often think that the differences between the two schemes are overstated when it comes to personnel. Great football players will play well in whatever scheme they play in. I mean come on, if you were a 3-4 team, would you pass on signing a guy like Brian Urlacher because he plays the "mike" in the 4-3? I didn't think so.

"How prospects stack up from a 3-4 perspective," NFL.com

This Day In History: Mar. 20

This Day in History

1854: A meeting of Democrats, former Whigs, and Free-Soilers in Ripon, WI, leads to the founding of the Republican Party.
1976: Heiress Patty Hearst is convicted of bank robbery performed with the Symbionese Liberation Army.
1987: The FDA approves the use of the antiviral drug AZT to treat AIDS.
1987: Jim Bakker resigns as head of the PTL ministry, saying that he was blackmailed after being lured into a sexual encounter.
1995: A nerve-gas attack on the Tokyo subway system leaves 12 people dead and 5,000 injured.
1996: A British government report raises serious questions about the safety of beef, amid fear of "mad cow disease."
2002: A car bomb kills 9 and wounds 30 outside the U.S. embassy in Lima, Peru, prior to a visit from Pres. George W. Bush.
2003: The first U.S. ground troops enter Iraq and move north towards Baghdad, meeting sporadic resistance.
2004: Former U.S. counterterrorism official Richard Clarke, testifying before the 9/11 commission, states that the Bush administration was preoccupied with Iraq and did not give dangers posed by al-Qaeda adequate attention.

Continue reading "This Day In History: Mar. 20" »

March 19, 2007

This Day In History: Mar. 19

This Day in History

1918: Congress passes the Standard Time Act, authorizing standard time zones and establishing Daylight Savings Time.
1920: The Senate rejects the League of Nations Covenant.
1925: A devastating tornado kills 606 in Illinois.
1972: India and Bangladesh sign a 25-year friendship and mutual defense treaty.
1977: The final episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show is aired on television.
2003: In an attempt to assassinate Iraqi Pres. Saddam Hussein, about 40 U.S. Tomahawk Missiles are fired at targets in Baghdad, the first shots in the invasion of Iraq.

Continue reading "This Day In History: Mar. 19" »

Passport Woes

Epassport_cover.jpg About eight weeks after mailing out my renewal form, I finally received my new passport. I'd been concerned because passport renewal by mail typically takes 6-8 weeks to process. The U.S. Department of State, however, recently amended the information on its website to reflect current processing times. Because of a deluge of applications, the State Department warns it might now take up to 10 weeks to receive a passport.

Not only are January through April the peak months for passport requests, requests have increased because of new regulations that went into effect on Jan. 23 of this year. People must now present a passport when reentering the U.S. by air from any part of the Western Hemisphere, including, for the first time, Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean.

An AP article from Friday referred to a notice sent by the State Department to lawmakers saying that "Applications received between October and this March have risen 44 percent over the same period in 2005-2006." The article also mentions that the department expects to process about 17 million passports this year, compared to 12 million in 2006.

I was also surprised to find out my new passport was not an electronic one. The first of the new electronic passports--which have a computer chip embedded in the back cover--were issued to tourists in August 2006. Apparently not all passport agencies around the country are equipped yet to issue e-passports, the technology for which has caused controversy because of privacy concerns.

Links: Passports Home (U.S. Department of State)
"Passport Requests Flood State Department" (Associated Press)

Photo: Cover of new U.S. tourist electronic passport. The logo at the bottom is the international symbol for an electronic passport.

March 18, 2007

This Day In History: Mar. 18

This Day in History

1931: Schick markets the first electric razor.
1962: France and Algerian FLN leaders sign a peace treaty ending the seven-year war and 130 years of French colonial rule.
1963: The Supreme Court rules that all criminal defendants must have counsel and that illegally acquired evidence is inadmissable in both state and federal courts.
1965: Soviet cosmonaut Aleksei Leonov makes the first spacewalk.
1974: Arab oil -producing countries lift their total ban on oil exports to the United States.
1995: Michael Jordan announces that he will return to basketball after a 17-month retirement.
2003: The British House of Commons votes 412-149 to authorize the use of force to oust Saddam Hussein.

Continue reading "This Day In History: Mar. 18" »

March 17, 2007

This Day In History: Mar. 17

This Day in History

1762: The world's first St. Patrick's Day parade is held in New York City.
1766: England's Parliament repeals the Stamp Act after widespread opposition in the American colonies.
1776: British troops are evacuated from Boston under threats from American artillery.
1861: The kingdom of Italy is proclaimed with Victor Emmanuel II as king and Cavour as prime minister.
1871: Parisians begin an uprising against the French government, temporarily establishing a proletarian dictatorship in Paris known as the Commune of 1871.
1901: A Paris art gallery shows 71 of Van Gogh's paintings, solidifying his place in art history; the painter has been dead for more than ten years.
1910: The Camp Fire Girls are founded.
1917: Russia becomes a republic when Czar Nicholas II abdicates.
1992: Whites in South Africa vote in support of Pres. F.W. de Klerk's policies to end white minority rule through negotiation.
2000: More than 500 members of a religious cult perish in a church fire in Uganda.
2003: Ending their diplomatic efforts to avoid war, Pres. George W. Bush, British Prime Min. Tony Blair, and Spanish Premier Jose Maria Aznar withdraw their proposed resolution from the UN Security Council; Bush warns Saddam Hussein and his sons that they have 48 hours to leave Iraq.

Continue reading "This Day In History: Mar. 17" »

March 16, 2007

This Day In History: Mar. 16

This Day in History

1802: The U.S. Military Academy at West Point, NY, is founded by Congress.
1926: The first liquid-fuel rocket flight takes place, launched by Robert H. Goddard in Massachusetts.
1945: During World War II , U.S. Marines win control of Iwo Jima after taking heavy casualties.
1968: Some 300 South Vietnamese villagers are massacred at Mylai and Mykhe by U.S. troops under Lt. William L. Calley, Jr.
1985: U.S. journalist Terry Anderson is kidnapped by Islamic militants in Beirut, Lebanon.
1988: After charges that Nicaraguan Sandinistas have crossed the Honduran border in pursuit of contras, Pres. Ronald Reagan orders 3,200 U.S. troops to Honduras.
2001: Wall Street's worst week since 1989 comes to a close with all major stock indexes down by more than 6 percent; the NASDAQ has fallen more than 61% from its March 2000 peak.

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March 15, 2007

'Tis nobler in the mind to plead insanity

Hamlet.jpgTonight, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy will preside over a very important issue. One debated by many a scholar, student, and, um… Cliffs Notes editor, aaaaand… all right, it’s not that pervasive of a question, but:

Was Hamlet barmy? Cuckoo? Bonkers? Mental? Insane in the membrane?

As part of the Shakespeare in Washington (D.C.) festival (January-June) the Kennedy Center is hosting a debate on just that issue, and the audience gets to decide. Lawyers (including Court TV anchor Catherine Crier) will argue whether the prince of Denmark is mentally fit to stand trial for the murder of Polonius. Anthony Kennedy will be the judge. Michael Kahn, Artistic Director of the Shakespeare Theatre Company, will host.

This is just one in a series of Shakespeare's plays adapted for a mock trial in D.C. since 1994, when Kennedy sat in on the same trial.

The insanity defense didn’t work.

The Supreme Court Hears the Trial of Hamlet

Poster of Edwin Booth (yes, brother of John Wilkes) as Hamlet from the Library of Congress

The World of Sword Swallowers

The 2007 World Almanac includes contact information for hundreds of associations and societies, but here's one that didn't make the cut:

If you’re a sword swallower and you wish to associate with other sword swallowers (and maybe get a few tips on how to avoid esophageal punctures while practicing your trade), then the Sword Swallowers Association International (SSAI) is the place for you. 1870s_UnknownSwordSwallower1.jpg

According to their mission statement:

SSAI is dedicated to networking existing sword swallowers around the world, promoting dialogue between sword swallowers, encouraging safe swordswallowing practices and techniques, and preserving and promoting the art of swordswallowing worldwide.
Sword swallowing takes dedication, a freakish sense of mind over matter, and an almost reckless courage. There are plenty of hazards in practicing the art, including painful death, and I'm sure that there aren’t many people in the world who can relate to those who shove steel blades down their gullets for a living. So it makes sense that sword swallowers have this type of international social network.

Click on the resources link and you'll be brought to a site affiliated with SSAI. There you can see x-ray pictures of people swallowing swords and find out about the history of sword swallowing.

Just remember:

DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME.

Sword Swallowers Association International
Sword swallowers resources and history www.swordswallow.com
Sword Swallowing World Records
X-ray movie of a guy swallowing a sword

And just in case you were still tempted to try it: "Esophageal Perforation in a Sword Swallower" Texas Heart Institute Journal. 2001; 28(1): 65–68

This Day In History: Mar. 15

This Day in History

44 B.C.: Julius Caesar is assassinated in Rome on the Ides of March.
1781: In the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, an engagement of the American Revolution, the Americans gain a strategic victory, as the loss of troops compels British Gen. Charles Cornwallis to abandon the Carolinas.
1820: Maine is admitted to the Union as the 23rd state.
1939: Nazi troops occupy two provinces in Czechoslovakia.
1985: Labor Sec. Raymond Donovan resigns to face trial on charges of fraud and larceny.
1988: A NASA study reports that the rate of depletion of the ozone layer is higher than had been believed.

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March 14, 2007

Visual Chemistry

Plutonium.jpgOne section of the Royal Society of Chemistry website is geared toward those in the general public with an interest in chemistry. Their Visual Elements Periodic Table is beautifully organized, with an image accompanying each element, and information about its date of discovery, name origin, and a brief description of its use.

There's also a visual timeline of significant events and advances in chemistry, from the Big Bang all the way to the possibility of thermonuclear fusion by 2050.

Links:
A Visual Interpretation of the Table of Elements
Chemsoc Timeline
Royal Society of Chemistry
Previously: The "Periodic Spiral"

Image: Plutonium (element 94), represented by the Hindu deity Shiva, from the Visual Elements Periodic Table.

This Day In History: Mar. 14

This Day in History

1794: Eli Whitney patents the cotton gin.
1900: Congress adopts the Currency Act, making gold the standard of U.S. currency.
1951: In the Korean War , UN troops recapture Seoul, which had fallen to the Chinese.
1964: Jack Ruby is found guilty of killing alleged John F. Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.
2002: Disgraced energy-trading company Enron suffers another blow as its accounting firm, Arthur Andersen, is indicted for destroying thousands of documents related to Enron's collapse.
2004: Russian president Vladimir Putin is elected to a 2nd term.

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March 13, 2007

What’s your favorite water body?

Bay%20v%20Rainbow.jpg I do recall heated debates as a teenager over plenty of pointless things like how Star Wars was cooler than (i.e. not nearly as geeky as) Star Trek, how Radiohead’s OK Computer was a perfect album, why I just couldn’t “relate” to Reality Bites or Friends...

...But whether bays were better than rainbows? Apparently this debate has been raging over at the U.S. Geological Survey, and they’ve posted a survey to bring the issue to a wider audience:

I was a teenager once and I remember how frustrated I would get when other people didn't seem to care about my opinions. I can imagine how upset you get when you want to tell someone what your favorite body of water is, but no one will listen!
Well, we will listen. Use this opinion survey to tell the world what your favorite water body is. We'll then show you what others around the U.S. and the world think.
What I learned? Bays are so not hip!

What’s your favorite water body?

Flickr photo from Footnoteblog

This Day In History: Mar. 13

This Day in History

1907: A financial panic and depression begin when the stock market drops.
1972: Author Clifford Irving admits that his purported interviews with and biography of multimillionaire Howard Hughes were hoaxes.
1984: In "Super Tuesday" Democratic presidential primaries, Gary Hart wins in Florida, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, while Walter Mondale takes Alabama and Georgia.
1992: Amid a scandal over abuses at the House of Representatives bank, the House votes to release the names of 355 current and former members who had overdrafts in their bank accounts.
2001: The U.S. bans animal and animal product imports from the European Union after a foot-and-mouth disease epidemic ravages Great Britain.

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March 12, 2007

The Video Game Canon: 2007 Edition

zork.jpg
West of House.
You are in an open field west of a big white house with a boarded front door.
>_
If those words don't stir something in your soul... well, you're probably younger than me, or at least you've never been a computer game enthusiast.

In case that line doesn't ring a bell: it's the opening of the classic text adventure game Zork, which ranks as one of the "ten most important video games of all time," according to a committee headed by Henry Lowood, curator of the History of Science and Technology Collections at Stanford University.

Lowood and his fellow committee members (game designers Warren Spector and Steve Meretzky, researcher Matteo Bittanti, and game journalist Christopher Grant) envision this list as the start of something akin to the National Film Registry, which every year adds new films to its massive list of "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" American films (see pages 238-39 of the 2007 World Almanac for that list).

I'm interested to see if this list gains as much widespread recognition as the Film Registry:

  • Spacewar! (1962)
  • Star Raiders (1979)
  • Zork (1980)
  • Tetris (1985)
  • SimCity (1989)
  • Super Mario Bros. 3 (1990)
  • Civilization I/II (1991)
  • Doom (1993)
  • Warcraft series (beginning 1994)
  • Sensible World of Soccer (1994)
Seem like the right choices for the basic canon? What games would you nominate for next year's class of inductees? Do you think we should include this initial list in the 2008 World Almanac? Take it up in the comments...

Is That Just Some Game? No, It's a Cultural Artifact (The New York Times, March 12, 2007)

Image: Zork in 1980 from the-tml's Flickr stream (CC)

Americans Don't Know Religion

Can you name the first five books of the Hebrew Bible/Christian Old Testament? What’s the sacred text of Islam? Can you name at least one sacred text of the Hindu religion? Apparently not many Americans can, according to a USA Today article that examines Americans' religious knowledge (or lack thereof).
"If you think Sunni and Shia are the same because they're both Muslim, and you've been told Islam is about peace, you won't understand what's happening in Iraq. If you get into an argument about gay rights or capital punishment and someone claims to quote the Bible or the Quran, do you know it's so?...We can't outsource this to demagogues, pundits and preachers with a political agenda." --Stephen Prothero, chairman of the religion department at Boston University
The article mentions data from the Bible Literacy Project, a nonprofit group that advocates the non-religious teaching of the Bible in schools. According to some of their data, only 36% of high school teenagers know that Ramadan is the holy month of Islam and only 10% could name the world’s five major religions. Yet at least 81% of them knew the “golden rule.”

Included with the piece is a short and revealing quiz that tests your knowledge of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism. I won’t say here what my score was, but let's just say that I should’ve paid a little more attention in Sunday school.

"Americans Get an 'F' in Religion" (USA Today, March 8, 2007)
"Bible Literacy Report (PDF)," Bible Literacy Project

For more info and some interesting stats on the world's religions, take a look at the Religion chapter of The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2007 (pages 711-722).

This Day In History: Mar. 12

This Day in History

1912: The American Girl Guides, later renamed the Girl Scouts, are founded by Juliette Low in Savannah, GA.
1930: Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi announces that he will lead a mass campaign of civil disobedience against the British colonial government by challenging the salt monopoly.
1933: Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt delivers his first radio "fireside chat." German troops enter Austria, which is soon annexed.
1947: Creating the Truman Doctrine, Pres. Harry S. Truman asks Congress to aid Greece and Turkey to combat Communists terrorism.
1956: Massive resistance to the Supreme Court desegregation rulings are called for by 101 Southern congressmen.
1968: Mauritius, an island in the Indian Ocean, becomes an independent country.
1993: Janet Reno becomes the first woman attorney general.
2002: The U.S. military declares victory in ""Operation Anaconda"" in Afghanistan , in which 8 U.S. troops had been killed since Mar. 2 fighting al-Qaeda and Taliban troops in Sha-i-Kot valley and surrounding mountains of Afghanistan.
2003: Elizabeth Smart, 15, who had been abducted from her home in Salt Lake City, Utah in June 2002, is found alive. Serbian Premier Zoran Djindjic is assassinated.

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March 11, 2007

This Day In History: Mar. 11

This Day in History

1824: The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs is created within the War Department.
1888: A huge blizzard begins to pound the eastern United States, eventually dumping 40-50 inches of snow and causing more than 400 deaths.
1918: The first U.S. cases of the great influenza pandemic occur, afflicting 107 soldiers at Fort Riley, KS.
1941: Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Lend-Lease Act, maintaining U.S. neutrality but providing $7 billion in military credits for the British.
1985: Mikhail Gorbachev becomes the new leader of the Soviet Union.
2004: Terrorists reportedly linked to al-Qaeda bomb four commuter trains during the morning rush hour in Madrid, Spain , killing 191 people and injuring hundreds.

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March 10, 2007

This Day In History: Mar. 10

This Day in History

1862: The first paper money is issued in the United States.
1876: Alexander Graham Bell transmits the first telephone message -- ""Mr. Watson, come here, I want you""-- to his assistant in the next room.
1880: The Salvation Army officially begins its work in the United States when 8 officers arrive in New York City .
1969: James Earl Ray pleads guilty to the murder of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
1987: The Vatican issues a doctrinal statement against artificial fertilization, surrogate motherhood, and other technologies involved with conception and childbirth.
2003: The Palestinian Legislative Council creates the post of prime minister, to be occupied by Yasir Arafat's ally Mahmoud Abbas.

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March 9, 2007

Saving Some Sun

Clocks_at_Greenwich.jpg Daylight Saving Time (DST) comes three weeks early this year. It traditionally begins the first Sunday in April. But the Energy Policy Act of 2005 added four weeks to DST, moving the start date up to Sunday, Mar. 11, and extending it by one week in the fall, to Sunday, Nov. 4.

DST was first observed in the U.S. during World War I as a way to save energy. In 1966, Congress passed the Uniform Time Act, which provided that any state or territory observing DST must do so on the same dates. Any state could, by law, exempt itself from DST.

Here are some quick facts about Daylight Saving Time, from the 2007 World Almanac and other sources:

  • Arizona and Hawaii are the only two states that do not observe DST. The Navajo Nation in northeastern Arizona, however, does follow DST.
  • Government studies from the 1970s showed that observing daylight saving time led to a 1% reduction in the nation's electricity usage each day.
  • California released a study in 2001, which concluded that there would be a 0.5% daily reduction in electricity use in the winter and a 0.2% daily reduction in electricity use in the summer if daylight saving time were to be applied year-round.
  • European Union member nations observe what's called Summer Time, from the last Sunday in March until the last Sunday in October.
  • Neither Japan nor China observe any form of daylight saving time.
  • Countries in the Southern Hemisphere have DST generally from October through March.
  • Because countries near the equator get roughly equal amounts of sunlight throughout the year, they do not deviate from standard time.
  • Benjamin Franklin first suggested daylight saving time in an essay.
  • Despite what I, and I'm sure many others, would like to say, it's called "Daylight Saving Time," not "Daylight Savings Time."
  • When DST ends at 2 a.m., Amtrak trains account for the time change by stopping for one hour before resuming service.

Links:
Worldwide Daylight Saving (WebExhibits.org)
Saving Time, Saving Daylight (California Energy Commission)
Seize the Daylight: The Curious and Contentious Story of Daylight Saving Time, by David Prerau

Photo: "Clocks at Greenwich Market" by Beachy

Vocabulary Idol

vocab.jpg The show American Idol took up the top 3 places in the Nielsen ratings last week, and will likely do so again this week. But another show filmed this week, likely to be at least slightly less highly rated, was comparing itself—and its participants—to the ratings behemoth and its stars-in-the-making.

While The World Almanac often includes information about the National Geography Bee and the National Spelling Bee (check out page 733 of the 2007 edition for a list of the winning words from the last 25 years), I had never even heard of the National Vocabulary Championship until this week. Teens from around the country compete to prove whose vocabulary reigns supreme. And—just as when I watch the National Spelling Bee (seriously, can you spell autochthonous?)—I was awed by the words upon words stored in the brains of these kids. One even told the host of the contest he knew a synonym for 'synonym' (poecilonym). He was knocked out in the first round.

The finals and contestant profiles will appear on GSN on April 15. But the contest website has some sample questions that, if you ask me, are a lot easier than the ones contestants were challenged with. See if you can come close to making the grade.

National Vocabulary Championship
NVC Sample Questions
A Contest Where Competitors Flex Their Lexicons (NYT)

Flickr photo by Despotes (cc)

This Day In History: Mar. 9

This Day in History

1862: The Confederate ironclad Merrimack and the U.S. Navy's ironclad Monitor battle inconclusively off Hampton Roads, VA, marking the end of the era of wooden fighting ships.
1864: Ulysses S. Grant officially becomes commander of all Union armies in the Civil War.
1933: The "100 Days" special session of Congress begins for the passage of New Deal social and economic measures.
1959: The first Barbie dolls go on sale.
1983: Anne Burford resigns as head of the EPA over charges the agency mishandled toxic waste cleanup.
1989: Eastern Air Lines files for bankruptcy.

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March 8, 2007

Mount Athos

Athos_4.jpg In Mount Athos, a self-governed monastic province of Greece, the beard will never go out of style. Since the 11th century, women, beardless boys (basically no one under 18), and female domestic animals (except for chickens) have been barred from the peninsula. There are now 20 monasteries.

The part I like most about Mount Athos? It's ruled by a special governor appointed by the Greek government and a council made up of members of the various monasteries. That one non-religious political figure gets the title “Governor of the Holy Mountain.” How sweet is that?

Friends of Mount Athos
An Informative site on Mount Athos

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

This Day In History: Mar. 8

This Day in History

1913: The Internal Revenue Service begins to levy and collect the first U.S. income tax .
1916: Mexican revolutionary leader Francisco (Pancho) Villa crosses into the U.S. and attacks Columbus, NM, killing a number of citizens and destroying part of the town.
1931: In the Scottsboro case, which becomes a symbol of racial bias and an international cause célèbre, nine young blacks are arrested in Scottsboro, AL, for the alleged rape of two white girls.
1945: In World War II, a massive incendiary raid by U.S. bombers destroys about one-fourth of all Tokyo's buildings.
1948: In McCollum v. Board of Education , the Supreme Court rules that religious instruction in public schools is unconstitutional.
1971: Joe Frazier defeats Muhammad Ali in 15 rounds for the world heavyweight crown.
1999: Amid fear of a China spying scandal, computer scientist Wen Ho Lee is dismissed from his job at Los Alamos National Laboratory for failing to properly safeguard classified material.
2004: The Iraqi Governing Council adopts an interim constitution.

Continue reading "This Day In History: Mar. 8" »

March 7, 2007

Internship Headhunters

When one thinks of all the expenses associated with going to college, one may think of tuition, room and board, books, and possibly travel. But what about the added expense of paying somebody to land the student a key internship? According to a recent Chicago Tribune article, a growing number of students are paying placement companies for internships at well-known companies. Because it is becoming more and more necessary for college graduates to enter the world with some sort of work experience (as the article notes), there is increased competition for good summer internships, many of which are unpaid. The internship-finders that students hire use their contacts at various companies to get their clients into desirable positions.

The whole notion seems a little exploitative. The quote that really struck me was the following, made by the head of one such internship-finding company:

"We go about it the same way we would if we were back at a corporation or an advertising agency marketing a product."
When I was in college, I had no idea I was a “product” that needed marketing. So much for grades.

Students Paying Internship Search Firms,” Chicago Tribune, March 6, 2007

The Search for "Autumn"

Autumn.jpg "Autumn and the Plot Against Me" is an older article from Vanity Fair. But it's still funny and relevant, in that research and fact-checking (both of which we do daily at The World Almanac) can be a tough business. In the piece, writer Nick Tosches chronicles his search for the origins of a Windows desktop background image.

Although Tosches is practiced in investigative reporting, this particular quest into the world of stock photography proves maddening as he bounces between reps at Windows, a public relations firm, and a state tourism department among other potential sources.

He expends all this effort because, as he writes,

I return to Paris, go from there to Tokyo, from there to Milan and Lake Como, then back here. I'm tired of everything, everywhere. I want only to go to Autumn.

Link: "Autumn and the Plot Against Me" (vanityfair.com)

Photo: A little bit of Autumn.

This Day In History: Mar. 7

This Day in History

1792: In the French Revolution, France's National Assembly adopts the guillotine as a method of execution.
1918: Pres. Woodrow Wilson authorizes the creation of a new award, the distinguished service medal, for Army personnel.
1933: Parker Brothers begins marketing the Monopoly game.
1945: U.S. Army troops cross the Rhine for the first time during World War II near Remagen, Germany.
1965: Hundreds of marchers for voting rights en route from Selma, AL, to Montgomery are turned back by some 200 sheriff's deputies and state troopers using teargas, nightsticks and whips, on what will become known as "Bloody Sunday."
1989: An international conference in London on stratospheric ozone calls for an accelerated phaseout of chlorofluorocarbons (CFC's).
2000: In a flurry of primaries, Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Vice Pres. Al Gore lock up the 2000 Republican and Democratic presidential nominations respectively.
2002: Hundreds are confirmed dead after several days of Muslim-Hindu riots and violence in the Indian state of Gujarat.

Continue reading "This Day In History: Mar. 7" »

March 6, 2007

Duck and Cover

duck.jpg I was browsing through the National Archives (yes, again) the other day and came across another charming, outdated public information pamphlet. From the Federal Civic Defense Administration, "Facts About Fallout" (1955), seeks to educate the public about the risks of nuclear fallout and how to minimize its effects. You have to love the tone, which veers wildly from fear-mongering ("If you are exposed to it long enough—IT WILL HURT YOU! IT MAY EVEN KILL YOU!"—emphasis theirs) to reassurance ("But this problem can be solved—as others have been—by American ingenuity and careful preparation").

Check it out at the link below (enlarge to read text), and then watch another Cold War-era favorite, Duck and Cover (1951), which was added to the National Film Registry in 2004 in honor of its historical significance.

Facts About Fallout
Duck and Cover (youtube)

The Cliché Rotation Project

Nines.jpgSick of clichés? Working on the Almanac where every word needs to count, I’ve learned how much space they can take up without really conveying much of anything. Well Matthew Baldwin at the hilarious blog Defective Yeti is sick of them too. He has started the Cliché Rotation Project to replace worn-out sayings with newer, snappier, more relevant ones. Here are some of my favorites from the first batch of reader-submitted ideas:
Old Cliché
Replacement
The blind leading the blind Enrolled in the Paris and Nicole Academy
Don't be a party-pooper Don't squeeze out your grumpies in public
It's a win-win situation Everyone gets ice cream!
Knuckle sandwich Boot soufflé
More fun than a barrel of monkeys
More fun than 20 yards of bubble wrap
Nice guys finish last
No one remembers Ivan the Wonderful
Playing second fiddle
Jeeves in a Google world
Click over to Defective Yeti to read more. If you have some ideas of your own, submit them. He’s looking to make this an ongoing project.

Flickr photo by DonnitaMae

This Day In History: Mar. 6

This Day in History

1836: Mexican troops under Santa Anna capture the Alamo in Texas, killing the entire garrison of defenders.
1857: The Supreme Court issues the Dred Scott decision, holding that slaves do not become free in a free state and that blacks cannot be citizens.
1965: A brigade of American marines land at Da Nang, South Vietnam, the first U.S. combat ground-force units to serve in the country.
1983: The first games of the new United States Football League are played.
1992: The Michelangelo computer virus is triggered in personal computers but does only minimal damage.
2003: The senate ratifies, 95-0, the Strategic Offensive Reduction Treaty signed by Pres. George W. Bush and Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin.

Continue reading "This Day In History: Mar. 6" »

March 5, 2007

Cefquinome and Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria

cefquinome.jpg Cefquinome is an antibiotic (made by Intervet, Inc.) that the FDA may soon approve for use in cattle. Usually, this wouldn’t cause much of a stir outside the medical or veterinary industries, but according to the Washington Post, approval of cefquinome may have negative consequences on a global scale. Some doctors fear that overuse of the powerful antibiotic may speed the evolution of drug-resistant bacteria. Proponents argue that the risk outweighs the reward. But a curious point is that FDA’s own advisory board rejected approval of cefquinome last fall (in a non-binding resolution), and a number of health organizations, including the American Medical Association, have also come out against it. According to the Post article, a recently implemented “guidance document” called “Guidance for Industry #152,” codifies how the FDA should weigh the risk/reward of new animal drugs. In an excerpt from the article:
The wording of "Guidance for Industry #152" was crafted within the FDA after a long struggle. In the end, the agency adopted language that, for drugs like cefquinome, is more deferential to pharmaceutical companies than is recommended by the World Health Organization. Cefquinome's seemingly inexorable march to market shows how a few words in an obscure regulatory document can sway the government's approach to protecting public health.
It'll be interesting to see how or if this'll play out in a more visible public forum. It should be noted that no antibiotic from the class in which cefquinome belongs has been approved in the U.S. for animal use.

"FDA Rules Override Warnings About Drug," Washington Post, March 4, 2007
Reuters Synopsis of above article
"Introduction to Cefquinome (CEQ) and Overview of Microbial Safety Assessment" (FDA information page)
FDA Guidelines: Guidance for Industry #152" (PDF)

This Day In History: Mar. 5

This Day in History

1770: The Boston Massacre takes place, with British troops firing into a Boston mob, killing 5.
1868: The impeachment trial of Pres. Andrew Johnson begins.
1933: Newly inaugurated Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt declares a bank holiday, temporarily closing the nation's banks.
1946: Former British prime minister Sir Winston Churchill, speaking in Fulton, MO, states that "an iron curtain has descended" across Europe.
1953: Soviet leader Joseph Stalin dies in Moscow.
1955: Jazz musician and composer Charlie Parker plays publicly for the last time at Birdland, a New York City nightclub named in his honor.
1979: The space probe Voyager 1 encounters Jupiter, relaying data on its rings and moons.
2001: 15 year-old Charles Andrew Williams shoots 15 people -- 2 fatally -- at his high school in Santee, CA.
2002: Pres. George W. Bush imposes steel tariffs of up to 30 percent, angering the European Union and other members of the World Trade Organization.
2003: A Palestinian suicide bomber kills himself and 16 others on a Haifa bus.
2004: Home style entrepreneur Martha Stewart is convicted of conspiracy and obstruction of justice for lying to federal investigators about her sale of ImClone stock.

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

March 4, 2007

This Day In History: Mar. 4

This Day in History

1789: The first Congress meets in New York City's Federal Hall.
1791: Vermont is admitted to the Union as the 14th state.
1861: In his first inaugural address, U.S. president Abraham Lincoln rejects the right of secession but attempts to conciliate the South.
1933: Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt appoints Frances Perkins the secretary of labor, making her the first woman cabinet member.
1986: Press reports link Austrian Pres. Kurt Waldheim, the former UN secretary-general, to the Nazis in World War II.
1989: Time and Warner Communications announce plans to merge, creating a huge media and entertainment conglomerate.
2003: Two separate bombings by Islamic militants in the Philippines kill 22 and injure more than 150.

Continue reading "This Day In History: Mar. 4" »

March 3, 2007

This Day In History: Mar. 3

This Day in History

1820: Congress passes the Missouri Compromise bill, allowing slavery in Missouri but not in Maine, and banning slavery in areas west and north of Missouri.
1845: Florida is admitted to the Union as the 27th state.
1863: During the Civil War, Congress passes the Enrollment Act. It imposes liability for military duty on nearly all able-bodied males between the ages of 20 and 45.
1918: In the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk during World War I , the Soviet Union agrees to stop fighting the Central Powers ( Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, and Bulgaria ).
1923: The first issue of Time magazine is published.
1931: Congress passes a bill designating "The Star-Spangled Banner " the national anthem.
1995: With the aid of U.S. Marines, the last UN peacekeeping troops leave Somalia.

Continue reading "This Day In History: Mar. 3" »

March 2, 2007

Road Trip Redux

Honda_Civic_GX.jpg If you're looking to purchase a car for your road trip, you might want to consider some of the models recommended by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). The ACEEE recently released its list of the most eco-friendly vehicles of 2007. The natural-gas powered Honda Civic GX came out on top, followed by the Toyota Prius, the Honda Civic Hybrid, the Nissan Altima Hybrid, and the Toyota Yaris.

Other Asian imports rounded out the top 12 while domestic cars and European imports dominated the list of cars dubbed "meanest for the environment." These include the Volkswagen Touareg, the Mercedes-Benz GL320 CDI, and the Lamborghini Murcielago.

The ACEEE compiles its list based on "green" scores. These scores are a measure of a car's tailpipe emissions, fuel consumption, and emissions that contribute to global warming.

Links: Greenest Vehicles of 2007 (GreenerCars.com)
Highlights of the Model Year (least environmentally-friendly automobiles and industry trends, also from GreenerCars.com; subscription required for some content)
American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy

Photo: Honda Civic GX

Road Trip

fuelman.jpg One of my favorite things about living in the middle of a city is not having to drive to work. While I sometimes I miss the privacy of commuting an hour or so everyday in the confines of my 1984 baby blue Volvo (with blue velour interior!), most of the time, I know that reading on the subway is more my style. And I definitely don't miss digging my car out of the snow, as I know most of my friends in Minnesota are doing today.

Then there's the escalating gas prices, which are on the upswing yet again—an average of 30 cents per gallon since this time last month. Though the national average is nowhere near $3 per gallon again, it can't be a bad thing to be more conscious about consumption. From the EPA's Fuel Economy website:

While each vehicle reaches its optimal fuel economy at a different speed (or range of speeds), gas mileage usually decreases rapidly at speeds above 60 mph. As a rule of thumb, you can assume that each 5 mph you drive over 60 mph is like paying an additional $0.20 per gallon for gas.
The EPA's Fuel Economy website has some great tools for maximizing fuel economy, as well as a catalogue of average MPG, cost of fueling, and greenhouse gases produced by all makes and models going back to 1985. This year, the least efficient car isn't a monster SUV, but rather a Lamborghini, which gets an estimated 9 miles per gallon (14 on the highway), and which is probably occasionally driven at speeds above 60 mph.

Fuel Economy Catalogue
Tips to Improve Gas Mileage

Flickr photo by Spike55151

This Day In History: Mar. 2

This Day in History

1836: Texas declares its independence from Mexico.
1877: A special Electoral Commission declares Rutherford B. Hayes the winner of the disputed presidential election of 1876.
1890: The federal government establishes the territory of Oklahoma .
1949: Air Force pilots flying in the B-50 Superfortress Lucky Lady II complete the first nonstop round-the-world flight .
1962: Basketball player Wilt Chamberlain sets an all-time NBA record by scoring 100 points in a game.
1972: The unmanned space probe Pioneer 10 is launched on a mission to Jupiter.
1985: U.S. approves first commercial blood test for AIDS .
1991: UN approves resolution for first Persian Gulf War cease-fire.
2004: Former WorldCom CEO Bernard Ebbers is charged with securities fraud, conspiracy, and false regulatory filings.

Continue reading "This Day In History: Mar. 2" »

March 1, 2007

A Big Week for Big Planets

170592main_pia08362_full.jpgOn Feb. 28, NASA's New Horizons probe pulled off a planetary slingshot maneuver, using Jupiter's gravitational field to trim several years off the probe's journey to Pluto. That rendezvous won't occur until 2015, but in the meantime, New Horizons' close approach to the largest planet in the solar system is expected to yield some exciting imagery in the near future. Visit NASA's New Horizons page for past photos and new updates as the mission progresses.

If you absolutely have to have a fix of gas giant photos this week, you're in luck! NASA just released a slew of gorgeous photos from the Cassini spacecraft, offering never-before-seen views of the ringed planet (like the one at right).

And just for good measure, here's the full listing of The World Almanac's editors' picks for top celestial and space exploration events of 2007--including the New Horizons flyby at #2:

World Almanac Editors’ Picks
Top 10 Celestial and Space Exploration Events of 2007

  1. Perseid Meteor Shower: Aug. 13 peak coincides with the new Moon; excellent viewing throughout the night.
  2. New Horizons (NASA): probe slingshots past Jupiter, en route to Pluto in 2015; closest Jupiter approach on Feb. 28.
  3. Phoenix Mars Lander (NASA): scheduled to launch Aug 3, arriving on Mars in May 2008.
  4. Planck/Herschel (ESA): two new orbiting observatories, scheduled to launch July 2007.
  5. Chang’e-1 (China): first Chinese lunar orbiter, scheduled to launch in 2007.
  6. Waxing Crescent Moon paired with Jupiter, Nov. 12: One of the best dates to view this pretty pairing, due to close proximity of the two bodies and visibility soon after sunset.
  7. GLAST (NASA): Gamma Ray Large Area Space Telescope, launch set for Aug. 7; will study extremely energetic objects and phenomena.
  8. Waxing Crescent Moon between Venus and Saturn, June 18: One of the best dates to view this celestial grouping.
  9. NOAA-N Prime (NASA): new weather and climate satellite, scheduled to launch Dec. 6.
  10. Saturn at Opposition, Feb. 10: Saturn’s closest approach to Earth, and the best time to view and photograph the planet and its moons throughout the night.

This Day In History: Mar. 1

This Day in History

1781: The Articles of Confederation are formally ratified after being approved by the last state, Maryland.
1803: Ohio enters the Union as the 17th state.
1815: After escaping the island of Elba, Napoleon returns to France in an attempt to regain power, but is defeated at Waterloo a few months later.
1867: Nebraska enters the Union as the 37th state.
1872: Yellowstone National Park is established by Congress as the first U.S. national park.
1896: In the two-day Battle of Adwa, Ethiopian emperor Menelik II's troops win a decisive victory over an invading Italian army, leading European powers to recognize Ethiopia's independence.
1932: The 20-month-old son of Charles Lindbergh is kidnapped.
1954: Five members of Congress are wounded in the House when 4 supporters of Puerto Rican independence fire at random from a spectator's gallery.
1961: The Peace Corps is created by Pres. John F. Kennedy's executive order.
1946: The Bank of England, privately owned for 252 years, is nationalized.
2003: UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix announces that Iraqi Pres. Saddam Hussein has done little to assist inspectors searching for Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) in Iraq. Suspected September 11th mastermind and high-ranking al-Qaeda official Khalid Sheikh Muhammad is seized in Pakistan.
2005: The U.S. Supreme Court rules that executions of convicts who committed their crimes before age 18 are prohibited by the Constitution's Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

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

About March 2007

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

February 2007 is the previous archive.

April 2007 is the next archive.

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