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November 30, 2007

This Day In History: Nov. 30

This Day in History

1782: Provisional articles of peace are signed in Paris between Britain and the United States, under which Britain recognizes U.S. independence.
1864: During the Civil War, the Confederates suffer a costly defeat in the Battle of Franklin, TN.
1939: The Soviet Union invades Finland.
1959: Boxer Floyd Patterson knocks out Archie Moore to take the WBA heavyweight crown.
1966: Barbados, an island in the West Indies, becomes independent.
1993: The Brady Bill, a major gun-control measure, is signed into law by Pres. Bill Clinton.

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

Quote Check: Mark Twain Birthday Edition


November 30 is the anniversary of the 1835 birth of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known pseudonymously as the celebrated writer and humorist Mark Twain. (Fun fact: Mark Twain was Clemens's second pen name. I personally prefer his first: Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass.)

Twain was one of the most quoted—and misquoted—personalities in American history (second only to Abraham Lincoln, according to Ralph Keyes, author of The Quote Verifier). Among the aphorisms misattributed to Twain: "Golf is a good walk spoiled"; "It is very easy to give up smoking. I've done it hundreds of times"; and "It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt."

However, Twain can be properly credited with saying, "Man is the only animal who blushes. Or needs to," and "Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest."

Samuel Clemens died in 1910; both his birth and death were marked by the appearance of Halley's Comet, about which he said, as quoted in his 1909 biography:

"I came in with Halley's Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don't go out with Halley's Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: "Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together."

There are quite a few great Mark Twain resources on the web; one of the best, listed below, was created in tandem with the Ken Burns film and includes links to video and audio as well as a ton of letters and other primary sources.

Mark Twain Scrapbook

The Second Oldest Profession?

0711oldestprofession.jpgWhile doing some recent fact checking, I came across a quote attributed to Ronald Reagan:
"It's been said that politics is the second oldest profession. I have learned that it bears a striking resemblance to the first."

It seemed to be a favorite quip for Reagan, who said some version of it on several occasions since at least 1974 when he was governor of California. But I also found other politicians, including President Jimmy Carter, saying it. Curious about how long the joke had been around, I did a search through some newspaper archives for the phrase "second oldest profession." It seems that writers had been placing various jobs in that dubious position for years, but politics wasn't one of them.

    Nominees for the Second Oldest Profession
  • Actors - "Hobnobbing in Hollywood with Grace Kingsley" Los Angeles Times, Nov 23, 1932
  • Casino Gambling - "Mont Blanc of Monte Carlo; Count Corti Tells the Story of the Principality of Chance" The Washington Post, Mar 17, 1935
  • Con Men - "Berliners, Who Fell for Hitler, Still Victims of 'Con' Men" The Washington Post, Mar 15, 1952
  • Counterfeiting - "Counterfeiting in America Started With Fake Wampum" Los Angeles Times, Apr 18, 1968
  • Gigolos - "Exit the Gigolo! His Taking Ways Remove Glamour; Paris 'Tribe' Vanishing; Too Light Fingered" Chicago Daily Tribune, Mar 5, 1932
  • Glassmaking - "Lenox Unveils Modern Glassmaking Facility With Old Techniques" Wall Street Journal, Nov 20, 1970
  • Interpreters - "Meet the Second Oldest Profession" The Washington Post, Sep 1, 1964
  • Journalism - a novel by Robert Sylvester, published 1950
  • Moving Companies - "New Holding Company on the Move" Los Angeles Times, Feb 12, 1969
  • Pharmacists - "The Second Oldest Profession" Chicago Daily Tribune, Oct 10, 1959 (mentioned again in the New York Times, Nov 17, 1963)
  • Pick Pocketing - "Bookkeepers Pen Death of Pickpockets" Chicago Daily Tribune, Aug 25, 1958
  • Pimpery - "The Bookshelf; 'Pimpery'" The Chicago Defender, Apr 18, 1931
  • Piracy - "Prominent in a Remarkable Exhibition of Pirate Lore in the Grolier Club of New York" The Washington Post, Nov 21, 1915.
  • Press Agents - "R. Maney [Dick Maney], Man and Legend" New York Times, Feb 23, 1941
  • Prostitutes (Confusing, yes. According to Yale anthropologist Ralph Linton in The Tree of Culture, Medicine Men were the first professionals.)
  • Spying - "British Premier Backs U.S. in Spy Incident" Los Angeles Times, May 13, 1960
  • Quackery aka Fake Medicine - "Quick-Buck Quacks Are Prospering More Than Ever" The Washington Post, Oct 7, 1961

As for politics, interestingly, no results turned up earlier than the 1970s and The Consent of the Governed, and Other Deceits (1971), written by New York Times political analyst Arthur Krock, has a chapter titled "The Second Oldest Profession."

Street walkers, etched by B. Smith, from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Catalog

November 29, 2007

November's Greatest Hits

World Almanac 2008 StacksNew to the World Almanac blog? Today's your lucky day: here's a roundup of some featured entries from recent weeks.

The World at a Glance: 2008 Edition
What's the most popular tourist destination in the world? The fastest roller coaster? How much fat does the average American consume each year? A roundup of some of the year's most interesting facts, straight from the pages of The World Almanac 2008.

Less Reading in the United States
The National Endowment for the Arts says that teenagers and adults are reading less, and less well. What's on your reading list?

Word of the Year
What the heck is "bacn"? Read up on The Oxford Word of the Year (and its runners-up) to find out.

Talking Turkey
The truth behind the history of the Thanksgiving "turkey pardon" at the White House

A Festival of Lights, In Space and On Earth
For most people, Comet Holmes has grown too dim to see with the naked eye, but you can still spot it with the help of binoculars or a telescope. Catch up on all the Holmes-ian news with this previous post.

This Day In History: Nov. 29

This Day in History

1916: U.S. Marines occupy the Dominican Republic.
1929: Richard E. Byrd and Brent Balchen pilot the first flight over the South Pole.
1945: The Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia is declared by the Communist-dominated constituent assembly, abolishing the monarchy.
1947: The partition of Palestine is approved by the United Nations.
1963: Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson establishes the Warren Commission to investigate the assassination of Pres. John F. Kennedy and the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald.
1989: Communist rule ends in Czechoslovakia when parliament votes unanimously to end the Communist Party's guaranteed leading role.

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

November 28, 2007

This Day In History: Nov. 28

This Day in History

1520: Portuguese mariner Ferdinand Magellan finds the westward route to Asia from Europe by rounding South America and entering the Pacific.
1912: Albanian patriots led by Ismail Qemal proclaim the country's independence.
1916: During World War I, the first German airplane raid on London takes place.
1943: The Tehran Conference begins in Iran, with Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin discussing plans for the Allied invasion of Europe.
1960: Mauritania becomes independent.
1964: The unmanned Mariner 4 mission to Mars is launched from Cape Kennedy.
1995: Pres. Bill Clinton signs a measure repealing the federal 55-mph speed limit.
1995: British Prime Min. John Major and Irish Prime Min. John Bruton announce an agreement aimed at restarting talks on the future of Northern Ireland.
2000: After three months of the latest Palestinian intifada, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak dissolves the government and calls for new elections.
2001: Enron Corp., the largest U.S. energy trading company, collapses after smaller rival Dynegy backs out of a planned merger; employees and investors will lose billions of dollars as a result. The collapse is the first in a series of huge corporate scandals.
2002: 10 Kenyans and 3 Israelis are killed as three suicide bombers attack an Israeli-owned hotel near Mombasa, minutes after assailants with shoulder-fired missiles narrowly miss an Israeli jumbo-jet leaving the Mombasa airport.
2005: The government of Canadian Prime Min. Paul Martin is ousted by a no-confidence vote in the House of Commons.

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

November 27, 2007

Rushing the holidays

suicide.jpgIt seems that the holiday season starts a little bit earlier each year here in the U.S., and so it's not so unusual to see Christmas lights and decorations up before Thanksgiving.

Edward H. Johnson, an assistant to inventor Thomas Edison, is generally credited with creating the first set of electric Christmas lights, and exhibiting them on his tree in 1882. The auspicious beginning to the decorating age began with a rotating tree with flashing red, white and blue lights. For some, it's been down hill ever since!

The proliferation of websites exhibiting ugly Christmas lights and tacky decorations grows each year, and if you think you've found the worst, you can go ahead and submit a photo to a multitude of ugly Christmas light contests.

This Day In History: Nov. 27

This Day in History

1095: The Crusades begin formally when Pope Urban II preaches a sermon in Clermont-Ferrand, France outlining his plan for a Crusade and calling on his listeners to join its ranks.
1919: The Treaty of Neuilly is signed between the Allies of World War I and defeated Bulgaria, which gives up territories to Yugoslavia, Greece, and Romania.
1965: Thousands of protesters demanding peace in Vietnam march in Washington, D.C.
1989: Millions of antigovernment protesters go on strike in Czechoslovakia, demanding free elections.
1991: As a result of a record number of savings and loan failures, Congress passes legislation authorizing $70 billion in additional borrowing authority for the FDIC.
1995: Pres. Bill Clinton asks for congressional and public support for the deployment of 20,000 U.S. troops in Bosnia.
2001: U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft announces that more than 1,200 people — mostly of Middle Eastern descent — have been detained in the U.S. since the terrorist attacks of September 11th and that 650 are still in custody.
2002: U.N. teams begin inspections in Iraq seeking evidence of a program of weapons of mass destruction.

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

November 26, 2007

This Day In History: Nov. 26

This Day in History

1789: The U.S. celebrates Thanksgiving Day for the first time.
1917: The new Bolshevik government in Russia abolishes all class privileges.
1943: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Chiang Kai-shek, and Winston Churchill conclude a meeting in Cairo to plan their wartime strategy against Japan.
1950: The Chinese Communists officially enter the Korean War.
1979: As a result of civil war between government troops and Muslim rebels, some 300,000 Afghan refugees flee to Pakistan.

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

November 23, 2007

This Day In History: Nov. 23

This Day in History

1863: The three-day Battle of Chattanooga, an engagement of the Civil War, begins. Union forces under Ulysses S. Grant dislodge the Confederate defenders and force them into a disorderly retreat.
1919: The first play-by-play of a football game is broadcast on the radio.
1943: During World War II, U.S. Marines take control of the Gilbert Islands from the Japanese after fierce fighting.
1971: China's seat in the Security Council, formerly held by Taiwan, is transferred to the People's Republic of China.
1980: Some 3,000 die when a violent earthquake strikes southern Italy.
1981: Many federal offices are shut down temporarily when Pres. Ronald Reagan vetoes a bill to finance government operations.
2001: The UN International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia charges former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic with genocide for his role in the 1992-95 conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
2005: Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is confirmed as the winner of the Liberian presidential elections, becoming the first woman to be elected as a head of state in modern Africa.

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

November 22, 2007

The Origins of Thanksgiving

TurkeySince most of you probably can't focus, through the turkey-and-stuffing haze, to read much on the blog today, we'll keep it short, and just let you jump into today's segment from Wake Up With Whoopi—a quick run-through the origins of Thanksgiving, and a few notable modern-day Thanksgiving traditions (including football).

Download (2mb mp3) / Subscribe in iTunes

If you can manage to stay awake to click through a few interesting links, you can get the full Thanksgiving story on the World Almanac for Kids site, or visit the Census Bureau for a great round-up of Thanksgiving-related stats—turkey, cranberry, and sweet potato production in the U.S., number of places in the U.S. named after the holiday's main course... enjoy, and Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving Day (The World Almanac for Kids)
Thanksgiving Day Facts (US Census Bureau)

Image: Happy Thanksgiving! from ckirkman's Flickr stream

November 26, 2007

The Growing Collection of E-Waste

0711ewaste_ill_400.gifNew to the 2008 World Almanac is a table on computer products disposal from 1999 to 2006 (page 351). In just 2005, Americans threw out 1.4 million tons of computers, monitors, printers, scanners, fax machines, and other peripherals. Only a sixth of that was recycled. The rest went into landfills or sometimes an incinerator.

A caveat: the Environmental Protection Agency considers any electronics not sent to the dump as recycled. This includes pieces sold to developing countries for reuse or just dismantling and chemical recovery.

The Electronics Takeback Coalition aims to raise awareness among consumers about this growing problem and have electronics manufacturers take on greater responsibility in disposing of this waste. In September, Sony Electronics USA became the first to sign their Manufacturers Commitment To Responsible Recycling, which means they won't send toxic e-waste to developing countries, use prison labor in disassembling electronics, or send hazardous chemicals to landfills or incinerators.

Electronics Takeback Coalition

November 23, 2007

Landsat—Earth From Above

Landsat_Greenland.jpg In my earlier entry "Forests Also Casualties of Katrina," I mentioned that scientists looked at satellite imagery to determine the amount of damage done by Hurricane Katrina. Following up on that entry, I wanted to spotlight the technology used by those scientists.

The source of the satellite imagery was the government's Landsat program. Since 1972, through a series of launched satellites, Landsat has been gathering information on Earth from above. The field of remote sensing was just emerging in 1972, but as of 2006, the program had accumulated more than 1.7 million "scenes."

Its collection continues to grow by more than 320 gigabytes every day. (Consider that a single-sided, single-layer DVD can hold 4.7 gigabytes, enough for most feature-length movies.) Landsat is jointly managed by NASA and the U.S. Geologic Survey (USGS).

The website Our Earth As Art hasn't been updated in awhile, but it allows visitors the chance to view the planet's magnificence as seen from space. Other images can be seen on NASA's and the USGS's Landsat websites.

The Landsat Program (NASA)
Landsat Satellites (USGS)
The Future of Land Imaging federal interagency study

Image: Greenland Coast, taken Sept. 3, 2000, by the Landsat-7 satellite. Image courtesy of USGS National Center for EROS and NASA Landsat Project Science Office.

November 22, 2007

Less Reading in the United States

0711Reading.jpgThe National Endowment for the Arts released this week a report on reading habits in the United States. Their major finding is that older teenagers and adults are reading less, and less well. The report is composed mostly of national studies by the Department of Education, but uses several other third-party surveys and reports to bulk up their observations.

Some Notable Points
  • Among 17-year-olds, the percent who read for fun at least once a week dropped from 64% in 1984 to 53% in 1999 and to 52% in 2004. The percent who never or hardly ever read for fun doubled from 9% in 1984 to 19% in 2004. Children ages 9 and 13 were also polled. Their numbers stayed approximately the same.
  • The percent of 12th-graders reading at or above the basic level dropped from 80% in 1992 to 73% in 2005.
  • In 2003, half of adults who read below the basic reading level had not completed high school and 45% were not employed either full- or part-time.
  • On average in 2006, 15- to 24-year-olds read for 7 minutes per day during the week and for 10 minutes on weekends.
  • The percentage of adults able to read at the basic and intermediate levels remained about the same overall. Fewer college graduates were proficient at reading in 2003 than in 1992.

To Read or Not To Read: A Question of National Consequence
Study Links Drop in Test Scores to a Decline in Time Spent Reading (New York Times)

This Day In History: Nov. 22

This Day in History

1497: Explorer Vasco da Gama rounds the Cape of Good Hope in Africa.
1917: The National Hockey League is founded in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
1943: At the World War II Cairo Conference held November 22-26 in Cairo, Egypt, Allied governments meet to define their war aims with respect to Japan.
1963: Pres. John F. Kennedy is assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas, TX. Vice Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson is sworn in as president.
1967: The UN Security Council unanimously approves Resolution 242, proposing in essence that Israel withdraw from the occupied territories in return for recognition of its independence by the Arab states and the establishment of secure borders.
1975: Juan Carlos I becomes king of Spain, days after the death of Francisco Franco.
1988: After years of secrecy, the Air Force displays the B-2 Stealth bomber.
1990: British Prime Min. Margaret Thatcher resigns.
2005: The German Parliament elects Angela Merkel, leader of the Christian Democratic Party, as chancellor of Germany.

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

November 21, 2007

Talking Turkey

turkey.jpg According to the White House, this Thanksgiving marks the 60th anniversary of the grand presidential tradition of pardoning a turkey. The White House's Thanksgiving website explains that the first turkey pardoning took place in 1947, when Harry Truman accepted the first National Thanksgiving Turkey. Not to quibble with the White House's website, which has a photo gallery of Turkey pardons over the years (a Kennedy turkey has a sign around its neck that reads "Good Eating, Mr. President!"), but they may want to do a little more homework.

According to the Truman Library, the Truman photo that the White House offers as proof-of-pardon dates to Dec. 15, 1947—well after Thanksgiving—and the library has "found no documents, speeches, newspaper clippings, photographs, or other contemporary records in our holdings which refer to Truman pardoning a turkey that he received as a gift in 1947, or at any other time during his Presidency."

I just hope, for my own amusement's sake, that the White House accurately reported this year's turkey's fate following its pardon: "After the presentation, the turkey will be flown first class to Disney World in Orlando, where he will be the grand marshal of 'Disney's Thanksgiving Day Parade.' After the parade, guests will be able to visit the bird in the backyard of Mickey's Country House in Magic Kingdom Park."

White House Thanksgiving
The Annual Pardoning of the Thanksgiving Turkey photo gallery
Truman Library

Forests Also Casualties of Katrina

Pre_post_Katrina.jpg Not only did Hurricane Katrina devastate cities and imperil lives, it also wreaked havoc on the environment. An article in the Washington Post describes a recently published study of ecological losses from the 2005 hurricane.

What scientists found, after examining satellite images of the affected areas, was that approximately 320 million trees were killed or damaged in the hurricane. Many trees that sustained injuries in the hurricane's winds or were exposed to standing water died shortly after the storm.

Also of note:

Chambers [the study's lead author] was even more surprised when his team calculated how much carbon will be released as the storm-damaged vegetation decomposes. The total came to about 100 million tons, equal to the amount that all the trees in the United States take out of the atmosphere in a year.

A short presentation on the NASA site, called "In Katrina's Wake," also summarizes the study's findings.

"Katrina, Rita Caused Forestry Disaster" (The Washington Post)
"Hurricane Katrina's Carbon Footprint on U.S. Gulf Coast Forests" (Science magazine; subscription or payment required to view full article)

Photos: Pre- and post-Katrina satellite images. Visible are the twin bridges over Lake Pontchartrain, east of New Orleans. Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge is the large green area toward bottom of left photograph. The same area—in red in the photograph on the right—indicates extensive tree mortality. Courtesy of the U.S. Geologic Survey.

This Day In History: Nov. 21

This Day in History

1620: The Pilgrims sign the Mayflower Compact.
1783: In Paris, Frenchmen Jean François Pilâtre de Rozier and Marquis François Laurent d'Arlandes make the first successful balloon ascent.
1789: North Carolina entered the Union as the 12th of the 13 original states.
1964: The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, at the time the world's longest suspension bridge, opens in New York.
1995: After talks outside Dayton, OH, the warring parties in Bosnia and Herzegovina reach agreement to end their conflict. The Dow Jones industrial average passes 5,000 for the first time.
2001: An elderly Connecticut woman mysteriously dies of inhalation anthrax, the fifth fatality in an outbreak that began in early October.
2005: Israeli Prime Min. Ariel Sharon quits the Likud Party and forms a new political party, National Responsibility.

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

November 20, 2007

This Day In History: Nov. 20

This Day in History

1789: New Jersey becomes the first state to ratify the Bill of Rights.
1815: In the aftermath of Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo, the 1815 Treaty of Paris, a treaty of alliance, is signed by France's opponents: Great Britain, Austria, Russia, and Prussia.
1945: The Nuremberg Trials of Nazi war criminals begin in Germany.
1947: Britain's Princess Elizabeth, heir to the throne, marries Philip Mountbatten.
1950: In the Korean War, U.S. forces reach the China border.
1975: Francisco Franco, authoritarian leader of Spain from 1939 to 1975, dies in Madrid.

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

November 16, 2007

Release Week Randomness

55 CancriSometimes these Thursday-morning Wake Up With Whoopi appearances go exactly as planned, and sometimes... well, sometimes this happens: everyone gets hopped up on the chocolates I bring in for Whoopi's birthday (which happened to be the same day The World Almanac 2008 was released), and then her co-host Cubby tells an admittedly cool story about spotting his own name in the book... and then suddenly I have no time to share all the great facts I prepared about extrasolar planets.

So, they'll have to wait for another week.* At least we did managed to kick around some facts from one of this year's The World at a Glance pages, which collect all sorts of facts you might not have known were in the book, including top-grossing concert tours, top tourist destinations, per capita fat consumption in the U.S., most popular car colors...


Tune in next Thursday morning for some Thanksgiving history, which I promise will go according to plan.

Previously: The World at a Glance

Image: Artists' conception of 55 Cancri and newly discovered planet (which I didn't get to talk about!)

(* ...or you could get an overview of the search for extrasolar planets on page 333 of the new World Almanac.)

Word of the Year


The year is winding down, which means it's time for media outlets everywhere to start summarizing 2007 with variously-themed lists. While we don't yet know who the Time "Person(s) of the Year" will be, one of my favorite lists has already been released: the Oxford Word of the Year and its runners-up. I like the Word of the Year lists because they provide an interesting perspective on what people have been talking about during the year, and how they've chosen to talk about it.

The 2007 Oxford Word of the Year is locavore, which defines the movement, becoming more popular in some regions of the country, toward committing to eating only locally grown food.

A few Word of the Year runners-up:
  • bacn: email notifications, such as news alerts and social networking updates, that are considered more desirable than unwanted "spam" (coined at PodCamp Pittsburgh in Aug. 2007 and popularized in the blogging community)
  • colony collapse disorder: a still-unexplained phenomenon resulting in the widespread disappearance of honeybees from beehives, first observed in late 2006
  • tase (or taze): to stun with a Taser (popularized by a Sep. 2007 incident in which a University of Florida student was filmed being stunned by a Taser at a public forum)

Check out the rest of Oxford's list, which includes a nice etymology for locavore, at the link below. Or grab a copy of The World Almanac 2008, where you'll find Merriam-Webster's list of new words for 2007 on page 722.

Oxford Word of the Year

Flickr photo by Pay No Mind

This Day In History: Nov. 16

This Day in History

1907: Oklahoma is admitted to the Union as the 46th state.
1918: The Hungarian Democratic Republic is established in the aftermath of World War I and the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
1933: The United States and the Soviet Union begin diplomatic relations.
1969: The press reports the 1968 massacre of hundreds of Vietnamese civilians in the village of My Lai during the Vietnam War.
1973: Pres. Richard Nixon signs a bill to authorize construction of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline.

Continue reading "This Day In History: Nov. 16" »

November 15, 2007

Sidr Lands in Bangladesh

Tropical Cyclone Sidr struck Bangladesh today with 140-155 mph winds. If Sidr had hit the U.S., it would have been rated in the upper limits of a category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale. According to the Weather Channel blog, the North Indian Ocean is the only place to have two cyclone seasons, April-May and October-November. Bangladesh suffered the most deadly cyclone in November 1970, killing at least 300,000 in the Ganges Delta. Another cyclone in 1991 killed 139,000. (There is a list of notable hurricanes, typhoons, blizzards, and other storms on page 303 of the 2008 World Almanac.)

Tropical cyclones are the same as hurricanes and typhoons; they are all cyclonic storms. The name varies by location. This map from the World Meteorological Organization shows the different regions for monitoring cyclonic storms as well as what they're called.

Reliefweb, a great source for emergency relief response to any disaster worldwide, said that the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society has set up 1,580 shelters and mobilized 34,000 volunteers to help with the preparation and recovery.

Bangladesh: Tropical Cyclone - Nov 2007 (ReliefWeb)
On-going Updates of Sidr (Weather Channel blog)
All sorts of cyclone satellite photos (Naval Research Academy at Monterey, Tropical Cyclone Page)

This Day In History: Nov. 15

This Day in History

1777: The Continental Congress adopts the Articles of Confederation.
1864: During the Civil War, Union general William Tecumseh Sherman burns nearly the entire city of Atlanta, Georgia before beginning his march to the sea.
1889: In Brazil, a bloodless revolution forces the banishment of the emperor and the creation of a republic.
1907: The first successful daily comic strip, Mr. A. Mutt by Bud Fisher (later retitled Mutt and Jeff), appears in the San Francisco Chronicle.
1920: The first meeting of the League of Nations is held in Geneva, Switzerland with 42 nations represented.
1945: A bipartisan congressional committee to determine whether negligence had contributed to the success of the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor opens its investigation.
1956: The first UN peacekeeping forces (UNEF) ever deployed arrive in Egypt to supervise agreements made to resolve the Suez crisis.
1935: The Philippines' commonwealth status, a stage on the way to full independence, is formally established with Manuel Luis Quezon y Molina as the first president.
1943: During World War II, the United States decisively wins the Battle of Guadalcanal over the Japanese.
1969: Anti-Vietnam War demonstrations reach a peak with 250,000 protesters marching on Washington, D.C.
1984: Baby Fae, born with a severe heart defect, dies weeks after receiving a baboon heart transplant.
1999: The United States and China sign a landmark pact liberalizing their trade relations.
2003: Terrorists using truck bombs strike two synagogues in Istanbul, Turkey, killing more than two dozen and wounding at least 250.

November 14, 2007

Fun (and Arrests) Abroad

Sub_comandancia.jpg Here's hoping that you, gentle World Almanac reader, have never and will never find yourself in a jail somewhere contemplating the following statistics:

Top 10 Cities Abroad by Number of American Citizens Arrested in 2006
  1. Tijuana, Mexico: 520
  2. Guadalajara, Mexico: 416
  3. Nuevo Laredo, Mexico: 359
  4. London, U.K.: 274
  5. Mexico City, Mexico: 208
  6. Toronto, Canada: 183
  7. Nassau, Bahamas: 108
  8. Mérida, Mexico: 99
  9. Nogales, Mexico: 96
  10. Hong Kong, China: 90

The U.S. Dept. of State supplied these figures at the request of the Los Angeles Times. Relying on reports from more than 290 cities worldwide, the State Department put the number of Americans citizens arrested abroad at 4,456 in 2006, up from 3,614 in 2005. It warned, however, that the numbers might not be comprehensive because they're provided by foreign governments and families of those arrested. Nor did the department give any detailed information on individual arrests.

State officials did tell the L.A. Times that arrests frequently occur at border checkpoints in Canada and Mexico, when American citizens are caught with alcohol, drugs, and guns. The State Department's own Special Warning About Drug Offenses Abroad states, "Every year, several hundred Americans are arrested abroad on drug charges."

Possibly more ominous than these arrest figures was this sentence in the L.A. Times article: "(The department declined to release any figures on how many Americans are incarcerated or where.)" For more information about arrests in the U.S., broken down by race, refer to page 114 of the newly released World Almanac 2008.

"Arrested Abroad: A Rare Glimpse of Trips Gone Wrong" (L.A. Times)
Assistance to U.S. Citizens Arrested Abroad (U.S. Dept. of State)

Photo by eoshea, in which the photographer's friend was nearly arrested in Cabo, Mexico, for running a red light.

November 26, 2007

Abe, is that you?

mumler_lincoln_small.jpgPoor Mary Todd Lincoln! The maligned widow of our 16th president was dragged over the coals in life, and has suffered much the same since her death 125 years ago.

A well educated Southerner, she was known for her vivaciousness, wit and spirited personality when she met the lowly lawyer Abraham Lincoln in 1839. Their marriage of 25 years produced four children, and proved to be volatile at times with Mary's high strung temperament. Mary's life was marked with many losses - starting with her mothers' death when she was 7, the death of her second born son Eddie in 1850, followed by beloved Willie in 1862. It was after Willie's death that Mary invited spiritualists into the White House so that she could attempt to communicate with her dead sons. At least eight séances were held, and Mary felt their presence in her life, writing to her sister that, "Willie lives. He comes to me every night and stands at the foot of the bed with the same sweet adorable smile he always has had. He does not always come alone. Little Eddie is sometimes with him..."

After seeing her husband assassinated before her eyes in 1865, Mary's life was shattered. She left the United States in 1868 and lived for two and a half years in Europe with her son Tad, who died at the age of 18, in 1871. In the 1870s Mary attended séances under assumed names, at which Abraham may or may not have "appeared." She was photographed by William Mumler, a "spirit photographer." Concerned about his mother's sometimes irrational behavior (and spending jags), Robert Lincoln, Mary's surviving son, petitioned the courts to declare her insane in 1875, and she was remanded to a Bellevue Place, private sanitarium for 3 months. Declared sane again in 1876, she spent many of her remaining years in France, never forgiving her son for his betrayal, and died in Springfield, Illinois, in July 1882.

November 14, 2007

This Day In History: Nov. 14

This Day in History

1885: Serbia declares war on Bulgaria.
1969: Apollo 12, the 2nd manned lunar mission, is launched.
1972: The Dow Jones industrial average closes above 1,000 for the first time.
1995: A budget impasse between Congress and Pres. Bill Clinton leads to a partial government shutdown.
1999: The UN imposes sanctions on Afghanistan after the country refuses to turn over suspected terrorist leader Osama bin Laden to the U.S. for prosecution.

Continue reading "This Day In History: Nov. 14" »

November 13, 2007

Holland Tunnel Turns 80

0711hollandtunnel.jpgWhile we all know a certain amazing book celebrates its 140th release today, there's another significant anniversary.

Happy 80th birthday Holland Tunnel! The first automobile tunnel (actually two tunnels) to connect Manhattan with the rest of the continental U.S. by way of Jersey City, NJ opened on November 13, 1927. The tunnels were a major accomplishment, taking 7 years, 1 month, and 1 day to complete.

Prior to completion, millions of commuters, trucks, and horse-drawn carriages relied on 15 ferries to cross the Hudson River, navigating harbor traffic like supply barges and ocean liners, plus ice flows and heavy fog. Delays and accidents were common. (A railroad tunnel under the Hudson River, completed in 1908, helped to halve the number of ferry passengers by 1914 to just 52 million a year).

It should be noted that "Holland" was the project's first chief engineer, Clifford Holland. Holland was notably young to head such a large project and he died of a heart attack in 1924 at age 41.

On its first day in operation, 51,694 vehicles (largely curious Sunday drivers) used the Holland tunnel. The first year's total was 8,517,689 according to the New York Times on Nov. 14, 1928. In 2006, 34.7 million vehicles passed through it, averaging 95,149 each day—a fifth of New Jersey-Manhattan traffic when combined with the Lincoln Tunnel and George Washington Bridge.

The Holland is still the second longest underwater vehicular tunnel in North America after the nearby Brooklyn-Battery. The north tube extends 8,558 feet, the south tube 8,371 feet. It became a National Historic Landmark in 1993. The tunnels' great innovation, designed by its third (!) engineer Ole Singstad, are the ventilation shafts tucked above and below the roadways that clear out deadly auto exhaust through enormous towers near the entrances. Winds from the 84 exhaust fans would have reached 72 mph if air flowed directly along the tunnels' roadways.

[If you're jonesing for stats on other notable tunnels, buildings, and bridges, turn to page 730 in your brand-new World Almanac 2008. You've already got one, right?]

Holland Tunnel Time Line from Port Authority of NY & NJ

Photo from Library of Congress' Historic American Engineering Record

Bad News Bears


Somewhere, Stephen Colbert is thrilled right now. But he's probably also pretty upset that the writers' strike is preventing him from covering the major bear news (none of it good for our ursine friends) that was published yesterday. The World Conservation Union released a report showing that 6 out of the world's 8 species of bears are vulnerable or endangered. The brown bear and the American black bear—both of which are found in North America—were the only two thought to have a low risk of extinction. Number one on the list was the Giant Panda, which is not technically a bear (rather, a "bearlike" mammal).

The bad news for the bearlike continued, with reports that the food supply for Giant Pandas in southwestern China is dwindling, forcing about 1,200 of the creatures (80 percent of the world's panda population) to migrate elsewhere in search of food.

World's Most Endangered Bears [Nat'l Geographic slideshow]
World Conservation Union Report
Panda Cam! [National Zoo]

Flickr photo of Tian Tian at the National Zoo by Scott Ableman

The World Almanac 2008: At a Glance

World Almanac 2008 StacksYes, the day that you (and we) have been waiting for is here: The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2008 is officially on sale. If you pre-ordered, you've probably got a copy already; if not, you should be able to stroll into the bookstore of your choice and pick one up today.

We'll be using this blog to share (and expand on) parts of this edition throughout the year. Today, though, I'll just leave you with an assortment of facts from The World at a Glance, one of our new quick-reference features:

Nation most dependent on nuclear energy: France, 78.1% of electricity is nuclear-generated
World's most popular tourist destination: France, 79.1 million arrivals in 2006
Most popular luxury car color in the U.S.: Black, 22% of 2006 model year cars
Most popular light truck color in the U.S.: White, 25% of 2006 model year trucks
Nation hosting the most refugees: Pakistan, 2.2 million, mostly from Afghanistan, in 2006
Top country for U.S. foreign adoptions: China, 6,520 in 2006
Fastest roller coaster in the world: Kingda Ka, 128 mph (Six Flags Great Adventure, Jackson, NJ)
Busiest airport outside of the U.S., by passenger traffic: Heathrow Airport (London, UK), 67.5 million passengers in 2006
Most-visited shopping website: eBay, 79.8 million visitors in July 2007 alone

California's gross domestic product in 2006 was $1.73 trillion. If it was its own country, it would have the 10th largest economy in the world, smaller than Russia's but larger than Brazil's.
If all circulating U.S. dollars and coins were equally distributed among the nation's population, everyone would receive $2,688.

Total fat consumption per capita in the U.S. was 37.7 pounds in 1910. It climbed to a whopping 85.5 pounds by 2005.
China's annual energy consumption grew 249% in the past 15 years, from 27 quadrillion Btu in 1990 to 67 quadrillion Btu in 2005.
The amount Americans spent annually on casino gambling ballooned 610%, from $11.5 billion in 1990 to $81.6 billion in 2006.
The number of violent crimes in the U.S. declined from 1.6 million in 1997 to 1.4 million in 2006, a drop of 13.3%.

Previously: The World at a Glance: Number Ones, Surprising Facts, and Changing Times

Photo: Vincent G. Spadafora

This Day In History: Nov. 13

This Day in History

1839: Abolitionists meeting in Warsaw, NY, form the Liberty Party and nominate James Birney for president.
1875: The first Harvard-Yale football game is played.
1956: The Supreme Court overturns Alabama laws requiring racial segregation on intrastate buses.
1966: Astronaut Buzz Aldrin takes a 5-hour space walk during the Gemini 12 mission.
1971: The unmanned space probe Mariner 9 enters orbit around Mars.
1982: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is dedicated in Washington, D.C.
2001: Pres. George W. Bush signs an order allowing closed-door military tribunals for suspected terrorists. With Taliban resistance crumbling, Northern Alliance forces roll into the Afghan capital of Kabul. Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin and U.S. Pres. George W. Bush pledge to cut nuclear stockpiles by as much as two-thirds, to about 1,500 warheads each.
2002: Iraq reluctantly accepts weapons inspections mandated by the U.N. Security Council Nov. 8.

Continue reading "This Day In History: Nov. 13" »

November 12, 2007

Philadelphia's "Other" Must-See Sight

ud9r7787.gifWhile some visitors travel to Philadelphia—the cradle of American independence—to see the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall and the new National Constitution Center, my last trip there in May brought me to the one place I'd always wanted to visit—the Mütter Museum. Located at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, this medical museum was founded as a resource for doctors and the public to learn about anatomy and human medical anomalies.

What kind of treasures am I talking about here? Presidential curiosity seekers will see the cancerous growth removed from Grover Cleveland's jaw in 1893 and a bone from the body of presidential assassin John Wilkes Booth, along with a plaster cast of Siamese twins Chang & Eng Bunker (1811-1874) as well as their liver, a five foot long human colon, a collection of 2,000 items that were swallowed and removed, and the skeleton of a 7' 6" man.

This museum is not for the faint at heart!

Photo: A mold of Siamese twins joined at the liver on display at the Mütter Museum. (The College of Physicians' Mütter Museum)

Presidential Veto and Override Counts

20060719_Bush.jpg Pres. George W. Bush only issued his first veto in July of last year, when he rejected a bill that would have lifted federal funding restrictions on stem cell research. On Thursday, Nov. 8, Bush faced his first upset when Congress voted to override his Nov. 2 veto of the Water Resources Development Act of 2007.

That got me wondering about the total number of vetoes he's exercised so far in his presidency. His latest veto was only his fifth, relatively few considering that Bill Clinton exercised 37 total vetoes as president, George H. W. Bush 44, and Ronald Reagan 78.

These figures, along with number of vetoes (both regular and pocket) by president since 1789, are listed on p. 441 of the forthcoming 2008 World Almanac, which is officially released tomorrow, Nov. 13.

Detailed information on what bills have been vetoed, the text of these bills, and how Congressional members voted can be found under the heading "Vetoes" in the Legislation and Procedure section of the Senate Virtual Reference Desk.

Virtual Reference Desk (U.S. Senate)
THOMAS database of legislative information (Library of Congress)
Previously: "The First 100 Hours and How to Track Them" on the GovTrack.us database on the 110th U.S. Congress

Photo: President discusses stem cell research policy, July 19, 2006. White House photo by Kimberlee Hewitt.

November 9, 2007

Food For Thought


If you're feeling a little guilty about wasting company time clicking around on the Internet, there's a new way to assuage that guilt (at least temporarily). Last month, a new website called FreeRice.com launched with two stated goals: to provide free English vocabulary and to help end world hunger. For every answer you get right on their free vocabulary quiz, 10 grains of rice are donated toward hunger relief via the United Nations World Food Program. The questions cover every imaginable vocabulary level, as the difficulty level adjusts with every right and wrong answer. And it's pretty satisfying watching the wooden bowl on the right side of the screen fill up, ten grains at a time.

The daily totals of donated grains, which you can view on the site, have grown exponentially since FreeRice's launch--from 830 grains donated on Oct. 7 to 77.1 million on Nov. 8. Over 1 billion grains have been donated so far.


Flickr photo by Mr. Kris

Continue reading "Food For Thought" »

The Cowboy and Adolf Hitler

cowboy_and_hitler.jpgWorld leaders regularly receive gifts from a variety of people, including their own citizens and visiting heads of state. Managing these gifts is a bit of a headache; in the U.S., the State Department logs all gifts received from foreign officials, while the White House Gift Unit keeps track of all other gifts. How many presents are we talking about here? In a typical year, the president and first lady can receive as many as 15,000 gifts!

This gift-giving tradition goes back a long way: even honest Abe Lincoln accepted gifts, including the suit in which he was inaugurated. As he tried on a hat sent from Brooklyn, he is reported to have said, "Well, wife, there is one thing likely to come out of this scrape, anyhow, we are going to have some new clothes!"

Some of the more unusual gifts over the years have included a pair of tiger cubs (given to Jacqueline Kennedy), a wooden cowboy figure with a lasso around the neck of Adolf Hitler (given to Franklin Roosevelt), and a 1,400 lb. wheel of cheddar cheese (given to Andrew Jackson, and consumed in two hours at his post-inauguration open house). The National Archives has an exhibition titled Tokens & Treasures that records the gifts given to twelve presidents.

November 8, 2007

A Festival of Lights, In Space and On Earth

Comet Holmes.jpgLiving in New York, sometimes you forget to look up and enjoy the night sky—but if ever there was a time to do so, it's now. Dedicated skywatchers should know by now about Comet Holmes (at right), which just a few weeks ago erupted, becoming nearly a million times brighter practically overnight. Before Oct. 23, the comet was visible only through a telescope, but a sudden and rapid emission of dust particles made the comet visible to the naked eye by the following day. From the Associated Press:

The comet is exploding and its coma, a cloud of gas and dust illuminated by the sun, has grown to be bigger than the planet Jupiter. The comet lacks the tail usually associated with such celestial bodies but can be seen in the northern sky, in the constellation Perseus, as a fuzzy spot of light about as bright as the stars in the Big Dipper.

This isn't the first time Holmes has undergone a sudden and dramatic change; here's a clip from The Baltimore Sun, Feb. 9, 1893: Erratic Comet Holmes

Astronomers aren't certain how much longer the comet will be visible in its current, extra-bright form; it could be months or just a few more weeks, so outer space buffs should check out this once-in-a-lifetime event as soon as possible. Why not do it tonight? He didn't have anything to do with discovering comet Holmes, but it is, fittingly, Edmond Halley's birthday. You can find a simple guide to locating Comet Holmes at SkyandTelescope.com. And you can listen to today's brief comet-chat on Wake Up With Whoopi here:

Diwali handsIf you're looking for a more earth-bound celebration of lights, you're in luck this week: I was just reminded by Ajay, our excellent webmaster, that he will be celebrating Diwali (or Deepvali) this Friday. The festival, whose name comes from the Sanskrit dipavali ("row of lights") is one of the largest celebrations in Hinduism—a five-day festival which, at its most basic level, celebrates the victory of good over evil. Throughout the festival, celebrants set oil-filled lamps outside buildings and set them adrift on rivers; the main festival day, tomorrow, marks the Hindu new year, and is celebrated with gifts, fireworks, feasts... and even gambling, commemorating legendary games of dice said to have been played by Hindu gods.

And yes, like so many other holidays, Diwali has undergone some commercialization in recent years. Some trends cross all cultural boundaries.

See Comet Holmes Tonight! (SkyandTelescope.com)
Comet Holmes roundup on Google News
Hindu holiday of Diwali attracts attention of businesses (Houston Chronicle)
Diwali Specials (recipes from Saroj's Cookbook)

Comet Holmes Grows a Tail (NASA Astronomy Photo of the Day; copyright Vicent Peris and José Luis Lamadrid (astrofoto.es)

Hands in Hands (Kunal Daswani)

November 12, 2007

This Day In History: Nov. 12

This Day in History

1918: After Charles I, the emperor of Austria-Hungary, abdicates, Austria and Hungary are proclaimed republics.
1920: In the aftermath of World War I, territorial disputes between Italy and Yugoslavia are settled by the Treaty of Rapallo.
1921: The Washington Conference, an attempt to limit naval armaments, convenes in Washington, D.C.
1942: During World War II, the Battle of Guadalcanal begins.
1956: Tunisia is admitted to the United Nations.
1982: In the Soviet Union, Yuri Andropov is named general secretary of the Communist Party's Central Committee.
1997: Two Islamic militants are convicted in the 1993 bombing of New York's World Trade Center.
1999: A major earthquake, measuring 7.2 on the Richter scale, hits northwestern Turkey, claiming more than 700 lives.
2001: An American Airlines passenger jet crashes in Queens, NY, shortly after takeoff from New York's Kennedy Airport, killing all 260 on board and 5 in the residential neighborhood on the ground.
2003: A bombing outside an Italian police station in Nasiriya, Iraq, kills 32 and wounds more than 100.

Continue reading "This Day In History: Nov. 12" »

November 11, 2007

This Day In History: Nov. 11


This Day in History

1831: Nat Turner is hanged for leading a slave rebellion.
1889: Washington is admitted to the Union as the 42d state.
1918: At 11 A.M. (on the 11th day of the 11th month of the year), hostilities cease in World War I after the Germans sign an armistice at Compiègne, France.
1921: The first American unknown soldier is interred in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA.
1965: In Rhodesia, the white government of Ian D. Smith declares independence from Great Britain.
1966: Gemini 12, the last Gemini space mission, is launched.
1975: Angola, a Portuguese colony, becomes independent.
1982: The U.S. space shuttle program's first operational mission takes place when Columbia deploys two commercial communications satellites.
2000: 155 skiers are killed in the Austrian Alps when a cable car catches fire inside Kitzsteinhorn mountain.
2001: Taiwan is formally admitted to the World Trade Organization, which China has officially joined the day before.

Continue reading "This Day In History: Nov. 11" »

November 10, 2007

This Day In History: Nov. 10

This Day in History

1775: A force of two battalions of marines is authorized by the Continental Congress.
1871: Explorer Henry Stanley finds the missing missionary David Livingstone in Africa.
1969: Sesame Street premieres on TV.
1970: The space probe Luna 17, launched by the Soviet Union, softlands an automated lunar-roving vehicle which relays television pictures and scientific data back to Earth.
1982: Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev dies.
1983: Microsoft releases its Windows computer operating system.
2001: Pres. George W. Bush announces a $1 billion aid package to Pakistan in return for the country's support in the war on terrorism.
2004: Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat, who for 40 years had personified the struggle of the Palestinian people for statehood, dies in Paris, France.

Continue reading "This Day In History: Nov. 10" »

November 9, 2007

This Day In History: Nov. 9

This Day in History

1799: Napoleon Bonaparte and fellow conspirators seize power and establish a new regime in France.
1918: The German republic is proclaimed after Emperor William II abdicates and flees to the Netherlands.
1924: Nellie Tayloe Ross of Wyoming and Miriam (Ma) Ferguson of Texas are elected the nation's first female governors.
1935: John L. Lewis founds the Congress of Industrial Organizations within the American Federation of Labor.
1938: During Kristallnacht, mobs in Germany destroy thousands of Jewish shops, homes, and synagogues.
1965: A massive electric power failure blacks out most of the northeastern United States and parts of 2 Canadian provinces.
1989: The Berlin Wall dividing East and West Germany is opened. Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping resigns his last post in the Communist Party.
2001: The Taliban stronghold of Mazar-e-Sharif falls to Northern Alliance forces in Afghanistan.
2005: Suicide bombers strike 3 hotels in Amman, Jordan, killing at least 57 bystanders and injured 300. Al-Qaeda operatives claim responsibility the next day.

Continue reading "This Day In History: Nov. 9" »

November 8, 2007

This Day In History: Nov. 8

This Day in History

1519: Hernán Cortés defeats the Aztecs under Montezuma in Mexico.
1837: Mount Holyoke College is founded as the first U.S. college only for women.
1861: The seizure of Confederate diplomats by a U.S. ship severely strains relations between the U.S. and Great Britain in the Trent Affair.
1864: Abraham Lincoln is reelected president, defeating George McClellan.
1889: Montana is admitted to the Union as the 41st state. The Bronx Zoo, one of the world's largest zoos, opens to the public.
1895: Physicist Wilhelm Roentgen discovers X-rays.
1923: In the so-called Beer Hall Putsch in Munich, Germany, Adolf Hitler unsuccessfully attempts to seize power with 600 armed storm troopers.
1932: Franklin D. Roosevelt is elected president for the first time, defeating incumbent Herbert Hoover.
1942: U.S. and British forces, led by Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, land in North Africa.
1960: John F. Kennedy is elected president, defeating Richard Nixon .
1988: George Bush is elected president, defeating Michael Dukakis.
2002: The UN Security Council votes 15-0 to give Iraq a "final opportunity" to comply with previous disarmament resolutions.
2003: A car bomb explodes in a residential section of Riyadh, the Saudi capital, killing 17 and wounding more than 120.
2005: The French government declares a state of emergency after rioting, mainly by young Muslims of North African descent, spreads through 300 cities and towns across the country.

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

November 7, 2007

Time Changes Risky for Pedestrians

Night_Traffic.jpgSeems that the end of daylight saving time doesn't just mean turning back the clocks. There's a period of adjustment to the earlier onset of darkness, one that is accompanied by increased pedestrian deaths. After examining traffic fatality statistics spanning a 10-year period, Carnegie Mellon University professors Paul Fischbeck and David Gerard concluded that pedestrian deaths tripled around 6 p.m. in the weeks following the end of daylight saving time. Pedestrian fatalities begin to drop in December and decline with each passing month.

No connection was found between time changes and increased driver or automobile passenger deaths.

"Pedestrians 3 times more likely to be killed when clocks change, study says" (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
Center for the Study of Improvement and Regulation (CSIR) (joint research center of Carnegie Mellon University and University of Washington, headed by Fischbeck and Gerard)
TrafficSTATS (Statistics on Travel Safety)

Photo: "Night Traffic," of New Brunswick, NJ, by atanas.

This Day In History: Nov. 7

This Day in History

1659: The Peace of the Pyrenees ends 24 years of warfare between France and Spain.
1811: In the Battle of Tippecanoe, William Henry Harrison defeats the Indians under the Prophet.
1837: American abolitionist Elijah Parish Lovejoy is shot and killed defending his printing presses against proslavery mobs in Alton, IL.
1916: Jeannette Rankin, from Montana, becomes the first woman ever elected to Congress.
1917: Bolshevik forces under Vladimir Lenin take power in Russia.
1944: Franklin D. Roosevelt is elected to a historic fourth term as president, defeating Thomas E. Dewey.
1967: The first black mayors of major U.S. cities are elected: Carl Stokes of Cleveland, OH, and Richard Hatcher of Gary, IN.
1972: Richard Nixon is reelected president, defeating George McGovern in a landslide.
1989: Douglas Wilder of Virginia is elected the nation's first black governor, and David Dinkins is elected New York City's first black mayor.
2000: For the first time in more than a century, the U.S. presidential election is undecided at the end of Election Day, with Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush awaiting the results from Florida, Oregon, and New Mexico.
2004: U.S. soldiers and marines, supported by Iraqi soldiers, launch a major ground offensive against insurgents in Fallujah, Iraq.

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

November 6, 2007

Meet the Mascots


The Beijing Daily newspaper reported this weekend that nearly 3,500 children recently born in China have been named after the upcoming Olympic Games, which are scheduled to take place in Beijing this summer. But the Olympic fever doesn't end there. Another 4,000 have names that come from the Fuwa, the five official 2008 Olympic mascots, who were "designed to express the playful qualities of five little children who form an intimate circle of friends." The Fuwa include Beibei (a Fish), Jingjing (a Panda), Huanhuan (an Olympic Flame), Yingying (a Tibetan Antelope) and Nini (a Swallow).

The "Five Friendlies," as the Fuwa are also known, have surprisingly well-developed personalities. Consider:

Jing Jing (pictured): Jingjing makes children smile — and that's why he brings the blessing of happiness wherever he goes. You can see his joy in the charming naivety of his dancing pose and the lovely wave of his black and white fur. As a national treasure and a protected species, pandas are adored by people everywhere. The lotus designs in Jingjing's headdress, which are inspired by the porcelain paintings of the Song Dynasty (A.D.960-1234), symbolize the lush forest and the harmonious relationship between man and nature. Jingjing was chosen to represent our desire to protect nature's gifts — and to preserve the beauty of nature for all generations. Jingjing is charmingly naïve and optimistic. He is an athlete noted for strength who represents the black Olympic ring.

2008 Beijing Olympics: Olympic Mascots

If I can make it there...

0711artsindustry.jpgWant to work in the movie business? Move to Los Angeles.

Want to work in theater, dance, music, or publishing? Move to New York.

That might not be surprising advice, but a report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics backs it up with numbers. "During the first quarter of 2006, 1 out of every 4 jobs (25.8 percent) associated with the creative arts industries in the country was located in either New York or Los Angeles," according to the report.

So what qualifies as a creative arts industry? The authors defined 27 industries as having "activities which have their origin in individual creativity, skill and talent and which have the potential for wealth and job creation through generation and exploitation of intellectual property." They then compared employment and wage data for those 27 "cultural output industries" in New York and LA for the earliest and most recent figures, the first quarters of 1990 and 2006.

Jobs dominated by Los Angeles in 2006 % of jobs nationwide Avg. monthly jobs % of wages nationwide
Motion picture and video production 58.7% 113,173 72.9%
Motion picture and video distribution 24.4 2,074 47.9
Teleproduction and other postproduction services 46.1 7,297 51.2
Other motion picture and postproduction 41.2 1,555 70.6
Agents and managers for public figures 27.7 4,890 38.8
Independent managers for public figures 21.4 10,170 53.0
Jobs dominated by New York in 2006 % of jobs nationwide Avg. monthly jobs % of wages nationwide
News syndicates 26.0% 2,907 42.7%
Dance companies 26.8 2,287 43.5
Periodical publishing 19.6 27,910 42.7
Record production 24.0 622 60.0
Integrated record production and distribution 27.3 1,015 70.0

Over the 17-year period, the movie production industry in LA has grown 111.3 percent while jobs in theater companies and dinner theaters plummeted from 14,042 jobs on average to 1,466.

In New York, there are more jobs in most creative arts fields than in 1990, but they don't pay as well in comparison. While city-wide private wages in New York had tripled between 1990 and 2006, the percent earned by the creative arts dropped from 8 to 5.4.

Nationwide, jobs in most parts of the music industry have dropped but the number of record producers grew from 813 to 2,595. Record producers now make the most money on average out of all of the creative arts listed. Other job sectors that increased greatly are cable and other subscription programming, fine arts schools, independent managers for public figures, internet publishing and broadcasting, motion picture and video production, museums, and promoters with or without facilities.

The economic impact of the creative arts industries: New York and Los Angeles
Via Docuticker

"TriBeca alley during student film shoot" from Flickr by eugene.

This Day In History: Nov. 6

This Day in History

1860: Abraham Lincoln is elected president in a four-way race.
1861: The Confederacy holds its first general elections under a new constitution. Jefferson Davis is elected president and Alexander Hamilton Stephens vice-president.
1869: The first modern football game is played, with Rutgers defeating Princeton, 6-4.
1941: The United States extends lend-lease aid to the Soviet Union.
1947: Meet the Press premieres on TV.
1984: Ronald Reagan is reelected president over Walter Mondale in a landslide, taking 49 states.
1986: The press reports that to help gain the release of U.S. hostages in Lebanon, the United States has sent military equipment to Iran.
1999: In a national referendum, Australian voters choose, 55%-45%, to retain the British monarch as head of state.

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

November 5, 2007

This Day In History: Nov. 5

This Day in History

1605: The Gunpowder Plot, a conspiracy to kill James I, king of England, as well as the Lords and the Commons at the opening of Parliament, fails when Guy Fawkes is caught and confesses.
1688: William of Orange, invited by English nobles to invade England and overthrow James II, lands at Torbay with an army of 15,000 men.
1912: Woodrow Wilson is elected president over Theodore Roosevelt and incumbent William Howard Taft.
1914: Great Britain and France declare war on Turkey during World War I.
1940: Franklin D. Roosevelt is elected to an unprecedented 3rd term as president, defeating Wendell Wilkie.
1968: Richard Nixon is elected president over Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace.
1989: The Civil Rights Memorial, designed by Maya Lin based on a passage from Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "I have a dream" speech, is dedicated in Montgomery, AL.
1996: Bill Clinton is reelected president, defeating Bob Dole and Ross Perot.
2002: U.S. Republicans, defying the historical trend of the president's party losing seats in the midterm elections, increase their margin in the U.S. House of Representatives and narrowly recapture the Senate. SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt resigns.:

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

November 2, 2007

All the Way from China

Linfen_pollution.jpg Though "China's Great Grab" dates from 2006, the Chicago Tribune special report is still relevant and thought-provoking. It examines the global consequences of China's rise as an economic giant through the flow of three commodities: cashmere, timber, and oil.

Of the three, I knew the least about the cashmere industry. Apparently the increase in cheap cashmere apparel in the U.S. correlates with greater numbers of cashmere goats in China. The goats are allowed to overgraze the land, which when combined with a long-term drought, speeds up the process of desertification. That in turn leads to giant dust storms, the effects of which can be seen all the way across the ocean, first on the West Coast and eventually into Maine.

Photo: "Pollution" by sheilaz413. Description of the photo reads "An elevated view of one of Linfen's main streets. Linfen has been named by some organizations as the dirtiest city in the world."

November 5, 2007

Secrets of Long Life

Mama Clam and Baby ClamNewsflash! Scientists have discovered the secret to living literally hundreds of years. The key ingredients? A sedentary lifestyle, slightly chilly climate, friendly neighbors, close proximity to the sea...

...And, uh, yeah: you have to be a clam.

The proof? Researchers from Bangor University in Wales found an Arctica islandica clam estimated at 405 to 410 years old, based on growth rings in the mollusc's shell. The new specimen shatters the previous official record for "oldest animal" of 220 years, and even the unofficial record of 374 years, both held by other Arctica clams.

The mollusc, which is thought to have lurked beneath the waves until at least the age of 405, would have been a juvenile when Galileo picked up his first telescope, Hamlet was first staged and the gunpowder plot failed to blow up King James I.
Scientists hope that studies of this species may shed light on the aging process in other animals, including humans. In the meantime, hit the jump for an abbreviated list of other animal lifespans, culled from the 2008 World Almanac (on sale November 13, for anyone who hasn't pre-ordered their copy yet).

Continue reading "Secrets of Long Life" »

November 2, 2007

Turning Back Time

Time SpiralYes, it's that time again: those glorious Daylight Saving Time days are over, as of 2AM on Sunday, Nov. 4.

Seem later than last year? It is: Daylight Saving Time in 2007 started several weeks earlier, and ended a week or so later, than in recent years. The U.S. Congress claims that the change will save energy across the country—or is it just a sinister conspiracy to sell more Halloween candy?

Either way, don't forget to set your clocks back one hour before bedtime, Saturday night.

Want a little more history about Daylight Saving Time? Hit the links below, or listen to this week's World Almanac Wake Up With Whoopi segment, on that very topic:

It's Time to Fall Back (World Almanac for Kids)
An Extra Hour of Halloween Daylight? Thank Politics

Photo: Time Spiral (by gadl)

Weird Science


Without innovative, creative critical thinking, scientific progress would grind to a halt. Still, when we checked in on this year's Ig Nobel winners recently, some of the subjects and hypotheses inspired more than a little incredulity. I had the same response when I read about an article in this week's New Scientist that documents the most bizarre and outrageous scientific experiments of all time. Some are more than a little cruel (the grafting of a puppy's head and front legs to an adult German shepherd that caused both animals' deaths comes to mind), but others are just bizarre.

For example:
  • Psychologist begins experiments on son to test if laughing is spontaneous when tickled.
  • Conclusion: Laughing is an innate response to tickling
  • To test if people can sleep through anything, volunteers have their eyes taped open and bright lights shone in their eyes.
  • Conclusion: The men dozed off in 12 minutes
  • Doctor rubs vomit from yellow fever patients into open wounds and drinks it.
  • Conclusion: Mistakenly claims it is not infectious
[Summaries from The Guardian]

Bizarre Experiments (with full details)

Flickr photo by practicalowl

This Day In History: Nov. 2

This Day in History

1642: In the Second Battle of Breitenfeld, an engagement of the Thirty Years' War, a Swedish army defeats the imperial army of the Holy Roman Empire near Breitenfeld, Saxony (now a suburb of Leipzig, Germany).
1772: Boston establishes the first of the revolutionary Committees of Correspondence, colonial groups organized prior to the American Revolution to mobilize public opinion and coordinate patriotic actions against Great Britain.
1795: A new, more conservative phase of the French Revolution begins with the government of the Directory replacing the National Convention.
1889: North Dakota and South Dakota are admitted to the Union as the 39th and 40th states.
1917: Britain issues the Balfour Declaration, proclaiming its intention to establish a Jewish state in Palestine.
1947: Howard Hughes flies his wooden Spruce Goose airplane for the only time.
1948: Harry S. Truman is reelected president in a historic upset over Thomas E. Dewey.
1962: Pres. John F.Kennedy announces that Soviet missile bases in Cuba are being dismantled—the end of a crisis that had threatened to ignite a full-scale war between superpowers.
1964: Prince Faisal, who has been consolidating his power and introducing major social and economic reforms, replaces Saud as king of Saudi Arabia.
1978: Dominica, an island in the West Indies, attains independence.
1983: Pres. Ronald Reagan signs a bill making the third Monday in January a federal holiday to mark the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr.
2001: The Bush administration announces that the assets of 22 known terrorist groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, are subject to seizure.
2003: Sixteen U.S. soldiers die and 20 are wounded when insurgents shoot down a Chinook helicopter near Falluja, Iraq. The U.S. Episcopal Church consecrates Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, its first openly gay bishop.
2004: President George W. Bush is reelected, defeating his Democratic opponent, Sen. John Kerry.

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November 1, 2007

This Day In History: Nov. 1

This Day in History

1776: The Mission of San Juan Capistrano is founded in California.
1848: The Boston Female Medical School opens, the first such school for women.
1914: In a World War I naval engagement off the coast of Chile, German naval forces defeat the British.
1922: In Turkey, the sultanate is abolished.
1950: Two Puerto Rican nationalists fail in their attempted assassination of Pres. Harry Truman.
1952: The United States explodes the first hydrogen bomb, in the Marshall Islands.
1954: The organization later known as the National Liberation Front (FLN) begins its struggle against France for Algerian independence.
1956: In India, the state of Punjab is formed by merging several provinces.
1959: Montreal Canadiens goalie Jacques Plante invents and wears the first hockey mask.
1960: The Benelux Economic Union, a trading agreement among Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, comes into existence.
1963: In South Vietnam, a military coup overthrows the government of Ngo Dinh Diem with tacit U.S. approval.
1981: Antigua and Barbuda, a group of islands in the West Indies, becomes independent.
1993: The European Union (EU), a supranational organization, is founded as the successor to the European Community.
1995: U.S.-sponsored peace talks aiming to end the war in Bosnia begin in Dayton, Ohio.
1998: Digital terrestrial television broadcast service begins.
2002: A U.S. district judge approves, with minor amendments, the year-old settlement of a 1998 antitrust suit against Microsoft by the Justice Department and 18 states.

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November 20, 2007

Edward's Untimely Death Series: Entry #9

8-1%20RollingStone_5-22-74_4x5.jpgKaren Carpenter (1950-1983), the pop singer, who with her brother Richard formed the recording duo The Carpenters, was also well known for her drummer abilities. In high school, in an effort to get out of gym class, she joined the school marching band, playing the glockenspiel, and then moved on to the drums, which came naturally to her. In June 1965, she and her brother, along with bass player Wes Jacobs, formed the Carpenter Trio (1965-1968).

In 1969, Karen and Richard were signed by A&M Records as the Carpenters, and produced their first album, "Ticket to Ride," whose title song (a soft-rock version of the Beatle's song) hit #54 on the Billboard's 100 List. Herb Alpert, the "A" of A&M said of Karen's voice, "It felt like her voice was on the couch, like she was sitting next to me. It was full and round, and it was ... amazing...." The duo's "Close to You" album went to #1, becoming a gold record, and won them two Grammy Awards - the 1970 Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal, and Artist of the Year. The Carpenters had twenty Top 40 singles, and continued performing together into the early 1980s.

In the mid 1970s, both Carpenters developed health problems - Richard became addicted to Quaaludes and Karen developed the eating disorder anorexia nervosa. In the late 1960s, Karen had visited a doctor about her weight problem (she was 145 lbs. at the age of 17 on a 5'4" frame), and he prescribed a diet which helped bring her weight down to 120 lbs, which she maintained until 1973. Karen battled anorexia for many years. Adding to her stress was a one year failed marriage to real estate developer Thomas Burris, which ended in 1981, the year she moved to New York City to enter therapy with Dr. Steven Levenkron (author of the book The Best Little Girl in the World, a study of anorexia). Feeling cured a year later, she moved back to California, but within three months she was found unconscious at her parents house, and she was pronounced dead, at the age of 32, of cardiac arrest on February 4, 1983.

About November 2007

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

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