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December 2007 Archives

December 31, 2007

The World Almanac 2007 Time Capsule

Another year, another World Almanac Time Capsule, filled with ten items that represent some of the trends and events that defined the year, from politics to sports to pop culture. Disagree with our choices? Let us know in the comments.
2007 Time Capsule: Harry Potter
J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, with a purchase receipt from its July 21 release date--on which it sold more than 10 mil copies in the U.S. and U.K.
2007 Time Capsule: Pelosi Gavel
The gavel used by Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D, CA), the first woman elected Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, to open the 110th Congress.
2007 Time Capsule: Pet Food
A pouch of contaminated pet food, one of the first of many tainted consumer products yanked from store shelves in 2007.
2007 Time Capsule: Virginia Tech
A candle from Virginia Tech's Apr. 17 nighttime vigil in memory of the victims of the Apr. 16 shootings.
2007 Time Capsule: Bonds Ball
Barry Bond's 756th home run ball, purchased at auction by designer Marc Ecko for $752,467. Ecko later sponsored an online vote which determined that the ball should be branded with an asterisk and donated to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
2007 Time Capsule: IPCC
A copy of Climate Change 2007, a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which called the global warming trend "unequivocal" and said that human behavior was "very likely" contributing to it.
2007 Time Capsule: Ethanol
A gallon of ethanol, which was produced in the U.S. in record amounts in 2007--13 mil barrels in July alone, a 33% increase over July 2006.
2007 Time Capsule: Florida Gators
Florida Gators football and basketball jerseys, in honor of their unprecedented dual championship seasons.
2007 Time Capsule: Foreclosure
One of the record number of foreclosure notices (nearly 250,000 in August alone) that were served upon home buyers in 2007 in the wake of the subprime mortgage crisis.
2007 Time Capsule: iPhone
An iPhone, preloaded with an mp3 of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'," in honor of the last scene in the final season of The Sopranos.

This Day In History: Dec. 31

This Day in History

1600: The English East India Company is granted a charter by Queen Elizabeth I.
1879: Thomas Edison publicly demonstrates his electric incandescent light for the first time, in Menlo Park, NJ.
1961: The Marshall Plan, a U.S. aid program for post-World War II Europe, ends after distributing foreign aid worth some $12 billion.
1974: For the first time in more than 40 years, private citizens in the United States are allowed to buy and own gold.
1984: The United States leaves UNESCO.
1999: Boris Yeltsin officially resigns as Russia's president, handing over power to Vladimir Putin as acting president.
The U.S. surrenders control over the Panama Canal to Panama, in accordance with a treaty signed in 1977. The zone surrounding the canal had already been handed back in 1979.:

Continue reading "This Day In History: Dec. 31" »

December 28, 2007

Florida's New Song

Florida state flagWhen I first came across the state song of Florida, "Old Folks at Home," I thought it had to be a prank—Florida is, after all, the state with the largest percentage of residents age 65 or older (17% in 2006). But it's true. The ballad, also known as "Swanee River," was chosen by the legislature in 1935.

But it might not be the state song for much longer. Florida is searching for a new anthem, and it wants its residents to choose from three finalists. What caught my eye is that Carl Ashley, the co-composer of one of those finalists, told the South Florida Sun Sentinel newspaper that The World Almanac was one of his sources. "We studied a world almanac and read about Florida history, trying to put as much as we could into the song."

Just Sing Florida, where residents can vote, has recordings and sheet music for each of the three finalists. Voting ends at midnight on January 10.

Good luck to Carl Ashley and Betsy Dixon, as well as the other finalists.

In addition to official songs, our chapter on States and Other Areas of the U.S. includes state mottos, flowers, birds, and trees, as well as lots of population, economic, geographic, and historical information. There really is a lot packed into a little space.

Links:
Three finalists sing praises of Florida in state song contest (South Florida Sun Sentinel)
Just Sing Florida

This Day In History: Dec. 28

This Day in History

1732: Poor Richard's Almanack is published for the first time by Benjamin Franklin.
1832: John C. Calhoun becomes the first vice president to resign.
1846: Iowa is admitted to the Union as the 29th state.
1945: Congress officially recognizes the Pledge of Allegiance.
1981: The first American test-tube baby is born,in Norfolk, VA.
2001: Pres. George W. Bush formally grants China permanent normal trade status with the U.S.

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

December 27, 2007

The Rising Cost of Home Heating Oil

Heating_oil_prices.gif The price of home heating oil has been in the news lately. Record prices have forced low- and fixed-income individuals and the elderly to choose between staying warm and other essentials. The majority of U.S. households that rely on oil heat are located in the Northeast, making residents in that region particularly vulnerable.

Congress recently approved a funding boost to the federal government's Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Officials in Maine, however, still worry a crisis will develop. They estimate that an average of $579 is distributed per fuel aid benefit, which would last a family only one month given projected heating oil costs. A few years ago, that same benefit might have carried a family in Maine through half the heating season.

The graph at right shows home heating oil prices in cents per gallon (including taxes) between 1995 and 2008. In 1998, the national average was $0.90 a gallon. The U.S. Dept. of Energy has projected that the national average will rise to $3.11 a gallon in 2008.

For more statistics on energy production, consumption, and retail prices, check out The World Almanac 2008 chapter on Energy, which begins on page 104.

Links:
Heating Oil and Propane Update (Energy Information Administration, U.S. Dept. of Energy)
Residential Heating Oil Prices: What Consumers Should Know (EIA)
Short-Term Energy Outlook (EIA)
"Federal Home Heating Aid Gets Boost," (The Associated Press)

Table source: U.S. Regional Heating Oil Prices and Inventories, EIA, U.S. Dept. of Energy

This Day In History: Dec. 27

This Day in History

1927: Leon Trotsky and his followers are expelled from the Communist Party by the Soviet Communist Congress. The musical Show Boat opens in New York.
1941: Rubber rationing begins in the United States.
1947: Howdy Doody, the first popular children's TV show, premieres.
1979: The Soviet Union Afghanistan.
2002: Four days after starting to reopen a plutonium processing plant, North Korea announces that it will expel all international inspectors from the country. Chechen rebels explode two bombs near the pro-Russian government offices in Grozny, killing at least 63.

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

December 26, 2007

This Day In History: Dec. 26

This Day in History

1620: The Pilgrims, aboard the Mayflower, land at Plymouth, MA.
1776: After staging a surprise attack, Gen. George Washington and his Continental Army defeat the Hessian mercenaries at the Battle of Trenton, NJ during the American Revolution.
1898: French scientists Pierre and Marie Curie discover the element radium.
1971: U.S. bombers begin a massive five-day campaign against North Vietnam, in retaliation for alleged violations of earlier agreements.
1991: The Soviet Union is officially broken up.
1996: In a case that draws national attention, 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey is found murdered in her basement in Boulder, CO.
2003: A horrific earthquake in the ancient Iranian city of Bam kills 41,000.
2004: An extremely powerful earthquake off the coast of Sumatra triggers a tsunami in the Indian Ocean that slams into the coastlines of a number of countries, killing at least 178,000 people. Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko defeats Premier Viktor Yanukovich in a repeat presidential runoff election.

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

Election 2008: $$$ vs. $$$$$

rudy.jpg

We may have mentioned this site on our blog before, but in the run-up to the Iowa caucus and primary season, I'd like to refer people to OpenSecrets, a website run by the nonpartisan, nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics. For the first time, the presidential candidates are on pace to raise over $1 billion to fund their campaigns. OpenSecrets tracks donations made to candidates' campaign funds, and analyzes the data in ways that you don't usually see in the news.

Find out which Senate or House campaign has raised (and spent) the most money, which presidential candidate is receiving the most funds from lobbyists (Hillary Clinton) or the oil and gas industry (Rudy Giuliani), and which candidate has raised the most through small ($200 or less) donations (Barack Obama). It's a pretty interesting tool for those who want to think about where campaign funds are coming from, and where they might go.

OpenSecrets

Flickr photo by Victory NH: Protect Our Primary

A Language of Symbols

Need a break from the hundreds of tables, timelines, and charts in the 2008 World Almanac?

Already?

Seriously!?

Symbol languageChinese artist Xu Bing is "writing" an entire book that uses only symbols that could be used as an "international language of everyday life." Bing was inspired by airline safety cards and what he describes as "the continued standardization of transnational products and consumer lifestyles."

This past summer Bing tested his language at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Two people could sit at computers on opposite sides of a wall, type a conversation, and the words would be translated into symbols for the other person to see (read samples with subtitles or without subtitles).

Book from the Ground
Xu Bing interview (MOMA's Automatic Update exhibit)
(Found via artkrush.com)

December 25, 2007

This Day In History: Dec. 25

This Day in History

800: Charlemagne is crowned Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Leo III.
1776: Gen. George Washington and his troops, in Pennsylvania, begin to recross the Delaware River.
1868: Pres. Andrew Johnson grants an unconditional pardon to everyone involved in the South's rebellion against the Union.
1926: Hirohito becomes Japanese emperor.
1989: Romanian Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife, ousted in an uprising, are executed after being tried and found guilty of genocide.
1991: In a nationally televised address, Soviet Pres. Mikhail Gorbachev announces his immediate resignation; shortly after his speech, the Soviet flag above the Kremlin is replaced by the flag of pre-revolutionary Russia.
2003: Pakistani Pres. Pervez Musharraf survives his second assassination attempt in two weeks when suicide bombers slam into his motorcade in Rawalpindi, killing 13 and injuring 40.

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

December 24, 2007

This Day In History: Dec. 24

This Day in History

1798: The Second Coalition, a military alliance comprising a number of European empires and kingdoms, is formed to resist French revolutionary forces commanded by Napoleon.
1814: The Treaty of Ghent is signed by the United States and Britain, ending the War of 1812.
1865: The Ku Klux Klan is formed in Tennessee.
1920: Enrico Caruso, Italian dramatic tenor, gives the last performance of his career at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City.
1941: Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Min. Winston Churchill meet in Washington, D.C., to discuss strategy for World War II.
1942: German engineer Werner von Braun launches the first surface-to-surface guided missile.
1951: King Idris I proclaims the independence of the federal United Kingdom of Libya.
1992: Pres. George Bush grants full pardons to former Defense Sec. Caspar Weinberger and 5 others for their alleged involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal.
1994: Carlos "The Jackal," one of the world's most notorious terrorists , is sentenced to life in prison by a Paris court.

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

December 19, 2007

You Have Been Warned

warning.jpg

Another year, another group of winners in M-LAW's "Wacky Warning Label" Contest, which we featured in the The World Almanac 2008. The contest, which is sponsored by a Michigan anti-lawsuit group, highlights the questionable advice amending the labels or instruction manuals of consumer products. Last year's group of dubious winners, for instance, featured the instruction manual for a personal watercraft, with the following sage advice on its gas tank: "Warning: Never use a lit match or open flame to check fuel level."

This year's winners include:
  • On a small tractor: "DANGER Avoid Death" (Complete with requisite cartoonish illustration.)
  • On a stroller's storage bag: "Do not put child in bag."
  • On a letter opener: "Safety goggles recommended."
  • On a vanishing ink pen: "Should not be used for signing checks or legal documents."

Don't believe it? You can check out photos of the labels at the links below.
Wacky Warning Label Contest Winners
Last Year's Winners

Flickr photo by The Letter E

We've Been YouTubed

I get a Google Alert every day for new online appearances of the phrase "World Almanac," but yesterday was the first time that a link took me to YouTube. The video I landed on (at right) didn't seem to have any connection, at first, but it all became clear at the one-minute mark...

I wrote a quick note to Patrick Butler, the video's creator, to let him know that he had the dubious honor of creating the first known World Almanac fan video on YouTube—and it turns out that his connection to our little book is quite a bit deeper than I could have suspected. He gave us permission to post this brief explanation on our blog:

"I have been a World Almanac fan since 1994 and it got me into learning when I didn't like learning and turned my life around. It helped me get my GED since I was in special school and they don't give you high school diplomas. I had problems with my behavior also and it got me in trouble a lot even after I got into The World Almanac. I was in a special school because I had autism and had behavior problems. I did do better when I got my first almanac. I am from Oswego New York and I was in special schools by the Oswego County BOCES Special Education Program until I was 20."

Patrick also recorded a new video just for us, entitled "How Did I Become a World Almanac Fan?" Please do check it out, and leave the guy a few words of support if you're as touched by his story as I was.

Previously: The World Almanac's Biggest Fan

This Day In History: Dec. 19

This Day in History

1777: During the American Revolution, the Continental Army establishes a camp at Valley Forge, PA.
1958: The satellite Atlas transmits the first radio voice broadcast from space, containing Christmas greetings from Pres. Dwight Eisenhower.
1984: Chinese Prem. Zhao Ziyang and British Prime Min. Margaret Thatcher sign an agreement granting China sovereignty over Hong Kong as of July 1, 1997.
1986: The Soviet Union releases dissidents Andrei Sakharov and Yelena Bonner from internal exile in Gorky.
1998: The U.S. House of Representatives votes to impeach Pres. Bill Clinton on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice in connection with a cover-up of his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.
2002: U.S. Sec. of State Colin Powell declares Iraq to be in "material breach" of UN resolutions.
2003: After 9 months of secret talks, Pres. George W. Bush and British Prime Min. Tony Blair announce that Libyan Pres. Muammar al-Qaddafi has agree to eliminate his country's chemical, biological, and nuclear programs and to accept international inspections.
2004: Two car bombs explode about an hour apart in the southern Iraqi cities of Karbala and Najaf, killing about 70 people and wounding at least 175 more.

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

December 18, 2007

This Day In History: Dec. 18

This Day in History

1787: New Jersey enters the Union as the third of the original 13 states.
1916: The longest battle of World War I, the Battle of Verdun, ends with 750,000 casualties.
1917: The 18th Amendment, establishing Prohibition, is submitted to the states by Congress.
1956: The UN General Assembly votes unanimously to admit Japan to the UN.
1961: Indian forces invade and annex the remaining Portuguese enclaves on the Indian subcontinent: Goa, Daman, and Diu.
1972: During the Vietnam War, full-scale bombing of North Vietnam resumes after Paris peace talks reach an impasse.
1996: In a controversial move, the Oakland, CA, school board recognizes black English as a distinct language.
1997: South Korean opposition leader Kim Dae Jung is elected president.

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

December 17, 2007

Google Zeitgeist 2007

Bimbo SummitAs we wade through our own year-end top ten lists and news roundups, we'd be remiss not to mention the recent appearance of Google's 2007 "Zeitgeist" — a roundup of the search giant's top trends and terms for the past year, in several different categories. At right, a snapshot of search volume for three (in)famous young celebrities, two of whom also made it into our own Year In Pictures retrospective... and below, the top ten searches on Google News for the year. Anyone surprised by the list?

Google News Most Popular Searches (global)
  1. american idol
  2. youtube
  3. britney spears
  4. 2007 cricket world cup
  5. chris benoit
  6. iphone
  7. anna nicole smith
  8. paris hilton
  9. iran
  10. vanessa hudgens

Link: Google Zeitgeist 2007

World Inmate Populations

Prison_Barbed_Wire.jpg Every year, the editors of The World Almanac have to decide what information to include, what to update, what to cut. Among the data that didn't make it into this year's edition were statistics from the International Centre for Prison Studies, which issues a World Prison Population List. The printed list and online database (which is updated monthly) contain such statistics as prison population size and incarceration rates in different countries.

According to the database, the U.S. has the world's largest prison population: 2,245,189 prisoners (including pre-trial detainees/remand prisoners) as of mid-2006. China followed with 1,565,771; Russia 889,598; Brazil 419,551; and India 332,112.

The U.S. also led in the number of prisoners per 100,000 population: 750 as of mid-2006. French Guiana came in second with 630, followed by Russia with 628, Saint Kitts and Nevis with 604, and the U.S. Virgin Islands with 549.

Keep in mind, though, that data is not always comparable between countries because of estimates, variation in source dates, and different methods of counting prisoners.

[Figures come from official administrative sources in each country. Countries for which official data was not available include Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Guinea Bissau, North Korea, and Somalia.]

Links:
World Prison Brief online database
World Prison Population List (7th edition) (PDF)
International Centre for Prison Studies (King's College, University of London)

Previously: "The U.S. Inmate Population"

Photo: "Prison barbed wire," Santa Fe, NM, by Dana Gonzales.

This Day In History: Dec. 17

This Day in History

1777: France recognizes the independence of the 13 American colonies.
1819: The republic of Colombia, consisting of Venezuela and New Granada (now Colombia ), is proclaimed, with independence leader Simón Bolívar as president.
1903: Orville and Wilbur Wright pilot the first successful flights of a heavier-than-air mechanically propelled airplane, at Kitty Hawk, NC.
1933: The Chicago Bears defeat the NY Giants in the first NFL championship football game, 23-21.
1992: The NAFTA trade agreement is signed by Pres. George Bush, Canadian Prime Min. Brian Mulroney, and Mexican Pres. Carlos Salinas de Gortari.

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

December 16, 2007

This Day In History: Dec. 16

This Day in History

1773: To protest a British tax on tea, patriots dressed as Indians board a British vessel and throw 350 chests of tea overboard, in what becomes known as the Boston Tea Party.
1864: During the Civil War, Union troops defeat the Confederates at the Battle of Nashville, TN.
1944: At the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge during World War II, the Germans launch an offensive in France's Ardennes Forest.
1991: The United Nations votes to revoke Resolution 3379, which equated Zionism with racism.
2005: The New York Times reports that U.S. President George W. Bush in 2002 secretly authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to eavesdrop on people in the U.S. who were suspected of terrorist activities without first obtaining court-approved warrants.

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

December 15, 2007

This Day In History: Dec. 15

This Day in History

1791: The Bill of Rights goes into effect after being ratified by Virginia.
1890: Sioux leader Sitting Bull is killed in a skirmish with U.S. soldiers.
1917: The new Bolshevik government in Russia signs an armistice with the German government.
1961: An Israeli court convicts Adolf Eichmann of war crimes committed during World War II.
1981: Javier Pérez de Cuéllar is sworn in as secretary general of the United Nations.
1983: The last U.S. troops leave Grenada, which they entered in October after a Marxist coup there.
2000: Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma officially decommissions the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, site of the world's worst nuclear accident in 1986.
2005: Iraqi legislative elections give a group of Shiite Muslim religious parties the largest bloc of seats in the parliament.

Continue reading "This Day In History: Dec. 15" »

December 14, 2007

This Day In History: Dec. 14

This Day in History

1799: George Washington dies at Mount Vernon, VA, after an attack of acute laryngitis.
1819: Alabama is admitted to the Union as the 22d state.
1911: Norwegian Roald Amundsen, with 4 men and sled dogs, becomes the first explorer to reach the South Pole.
1918: In Great Britain, women vote for the first time.
1981: Israel annexes the Golan Heights, which it has occupied since 1967.
1993: In Geneva, Switzerland, representatives of 117 countries conclude the GATT treaty to reduce tariffs and eliminate trade quotas.
1995: The Dayton Peace Accords on Bosnia are formally signed in Paris, France. They divide Bosnia and Hercegovina into a Muslim-Croat federation (51%) and a Serb republic (49%), with Sarajevo as the national capital.
1999: The United States officially hands over control of the Panama Canal to Panama.

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

December 13, 2007

Memorable Moments in Sports: Secretariat's Triple Crown

Another entry from The World Almanac 2008's Memorable Moments in Sports feature—this time, from the "Amazing Final Plays" category. This one isn't necessarily a "play," per se, but it is one of the all-time greatest finishes, capping off one of the all-time greatest seasons, in any sport.
Secretariat's Record-Breaking Triple Crown
June 9, 1973: The Belmont Stakes

Secretariat kicked off 1973's Triple Crown season by setting a new record at the Kentucky Derby (1:59 2/5), then winning the Preakness by 2 1/2 lengths. Timing errors at the latter delayed the reporting of his official time, listed by Preakness officials as 1:54 2/5. At the Belmont Stakes, Secretariat and Sham, his second-place challenger in the first two races, opened an immediate lead on their competitors—but Secretariat surged even further ahead after the halfway mark. Hitting the stretch, he had a lead of nearly 20 lengths, then opened it even wider before crossing the wire with a still-standing 1 1/2-mile dirt track record of 2:24 (more than 1 2/5 seconds faster than any other horse has run). Later review of race videotapes marked Secretariat's winning lead at an unimaginable 31 lengths.

It's an incredible performance even if you aren't a racing fan... and the announcer's excitement is darn near impossible to resist. Enjoy!

Previously: Canseco's "Head Ball"

It's Obama, Not Osama

obama_osama.jpgConfusing the Democratic presidential hopeful with the Saudi terrorist was just one of the noteworthy errors made in the press in 2007. Craig Silverman at Regret the Error has posted his list of top media mistakes of the year.
Some highlights:
"When Redding, a longtime scout for Playboy, discovered Smith, the model could barely right a sentence..."
-Houston Chronicle
We misspelled the word misspelled twice, as mispelled, in the Corrections and clarifications column on September 26, page 30.
-The Guardian
APOLOGY: In Friday's article on Liz Hurley's wedding it was wrongly stated that the actress is holding a pheasant shoot on the Sunday after the ceremony. Game shooting is of course illegal on Sundays and the pheasant season ended on Feb 1. We apologise for the error and accept that if any shooting is to be done it will be by the paparazzi, who have no season and do not observe the Sabbath.
-Daily Telegraph (UK)

This Day In History: Dec. 13

This Day in History

1545: The Council of Trent, an attempt by the Roman Catholic Church to respond to the Protestant Reformation, begins its meetings.
1577: Sir Francis Drake begins his voyage to circumnavigate the globe.
1862: During the Civil War, Confederate troops under Gen. Robert E. Lee defeat the Union at the Battle of Fredericksburg.
1981: In Poland, the government decrees martial law and suspends the activities of the Solidarity labor union.
1991: North and South Korea sign a reconciliation and nonaggression pact, in their broadest accord since the 1953 armistice unofficially ending the Korean War.
2001: Five gunmen with links to Pakistani terror organizations open fire outside the Indian parliament building; 14 people, including the terrorists, are killed in the chaos. Pres. George W. Bush announces that the U.S. will withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the Soviet Union.
2002: Roman Catholic Cardinal Bernard Law resigns as archbishop of Boston amidst growing criticism for allegedly protecting priests accused of abusing minors.
2003: Deposed Iraqi Pres. Saddam Hussein is captured by U.S. forces in an underground hideout 9 miles from his hometown of Tikrit.

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

December 12, 2007

Memorable Moments in Sports: Canseco's "Head Ball"

Here's the first in a series of "Memorable Moments in Sports" from The World Almanac 2008—this time, from the "Greatest Embarrassments" category:
Jose Canseco (Texas Rangers), May 26, 1993
Playing right field against the Cleveland Indians, Canseco lost a fly ball (hit by Carlos Martinez) in the lights. The ball bounced off Canseco's head and over the wall, for a home run. The Harrisburg Heat pro soccer team jokingly offered Canseco a contract the next day, citing his "great potential for the head ball."
I can't decide which is better: the shot of Canseco rubbing the back of his head, or the slow-mo instant replay. Guess I'd better watch it again. And again. And again.

Previously: "Unbreakable" Sports Records (from The World Almanac 2007)

This Day In History: Dec. 12

This Day in History

1787: Pennsylvania enters the Union as the second state.
1870: Joseph Rainey of South Carolina is sworn in, becoming the first black in the U.S. House of Representatives.
1913: Italian authorities announce that the Mona Lisa, stolen from the Louvre in Paris in 1911, has been recovered.
1917: Father Edward Flanagan founds Boys Town in Omaha, NE.
1963: Kenya's independence is proclaimed.
1985: Pres. Ronald Reagan signs the Gramm-Rudman bill to reduce the federal budget deficit. An Arrow Air charter airplane crashes after taking off from Gander, Newfoundland, killing 256 people, including 248 American soldiers.:
2000: The Supreme Court ends the 5-week U.S. presidential election deadlock by voting 5-4 to block further recounts in the contested Florida election, giving the election to Republican George W. Bush over Democrat Al Gore.
2001: Prosecutors charge French citizen Zacarias Moussaoui in connection with the terrorist attacks of September 11 .
2002: The European Union opens its doors to 10 new members — Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Cyprus and Malta — who are to join in 2004.
2003: Liberal Party leader Paul Martin becomes Canada's 21st prime minister.

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

December 11, 2007

This Day In History: Dec. 11

This Day in History

1816: Indiana is admitted to the Union as the 19th state.
1936: Britain's King Edward VIII abdicates so that he can marry twice-divorced American Wallis Warfield Simpson.
1941: The United States declares war on Germany and Italy.
1946: UNICEF is established by the UN General Assembly.
1997: Representatives of more than 150 countries, at a global warming summit in Kyoto, Japan, approve an agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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

December 12, 2007

The U.S. Inmate Population

His_Cuffs.jpg I previously blogged about the numbers of U.S. citizens arrested abroad. Here are some facts from The World Almanac 2008 about prisoners in the U.S. (pages 110-115):

  • Number held in state and federal prisons and local jails, mid-2006: 2,245,189
  • Largest prison populations by number of inmates, mid-2006: Federal (191,080), California (175,115), Texas (172,889)
  • State or federal prison incarceration rate (sentenced prisoners* per 100,000 residents), mid-2006: 497
  • States with highest incarceration rates (sentenced prisoners* per 100,000 residents), mid-2006: Louisiana (835), Texas (687), Mississippi (661)
  • States with largest percentage increase in its prison population, mid-1995 to mid-2006: North Dakota (129.7%), West Virginia (121.8%), Wisconsin (116.6%)
  • Number of male inmates per 100,000 male U.S. residents, mid-2006: 1,384
  • Number of female inmates per 100,000 female U.S. residents, mid-2006: 134

The latest crime statistics can also be found on the websites of the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the FBI.

*With a sentence of more than one year.

Photo: "His Cuffs" by *One*.

December 11, 2007

Food Economics

corn.jpg

As we pointed out in The World Almanac 2008, U.S. ethanol production in 2007 has been at record levels—not surprising, considering the ever-higher demand. An interesting cover story in The Economist last week shed a different light on ethanol production, in the context of food prices, which are rising for the first time in 30 years. (The Economist article is, of course, indexing the cost of food in terms of real dollars.) The article theorizes that the U.S.'s increased diversion of corn to ethanol production—and the 200-odd subsidies that support it—is working in tandem with the growing demand for meat worldwide to push food prices higher.

Definitely an interesting read, but if you're short on time, at least check out a few of The Economist's usual somewhat-dry-but-very-informative charts on the subject.

The End of Cheap Food

Flickr photo by r-z

December 10, 2007

Caring for Your Chicken

OK, this is a silly one but good fodder for any holiday party banter you might find yourself obliged to participate in the next few weeks.

Via the blog of Improbable Research (the group behind the Ig Nobels) comes news of advancement being made in human-chicken relations. Poultry Internet, a project of the National University of Singapore's Mixed Reality Lab, has developed a "novel cybernetics system to use mobile and Internet technology to improve human-to-pet interaction."

The owner pets a model chicken in the "office system." The owner's touch is remotely transmitted to the chicken, who is part of the "backyard system," via a device worn by the chicken. This device, referred to as a "dress" in the project summary (but resembling a pink boa scarf in project photos), "consists of electronics that simulates touch (or haptic) sensation."

Check out the video to see the system in action.

Links:
Poultry Internet (Mixed Reality Lab, National University of Singapore)
Improbable Research blog

December 6, 2007

Autumn on Uranus

0712Uranus.jpgUranus is at its equinox December 7, meaning the Sun will be shining directly on its equator. Uranus tilts dramatically (98 degrees) on its rotational axis, while the Earth's tilt is a mere 23 degrees—so while Autumn for the Earth's northern hemisphere runs from Sept. 22 through Dec. 21, "Autumn" in Uranus' southern hemisphere begins December 7 and lasts until, well, 2028. At that point, its south pole will be facing almost completely away from the Sun. Uranus' last equinox was in 1965 and the next one will not be until 2049.

The long read on what can be gained from observing the equinox: Uranus nears Equinox (PDF) from a meeting of the Outer Planets Assessment Group (OPAG)

Uranus, found by Sir William Herschel in 1781, was the first planet discovered using a telescope. Herschel originally named it Georgium Sidus (George's Star) after his patron, King George III. It wasn't until later that Johann Bode recommended that it be named after the father of the Titans in Roman mythology, much to the joy of bored students everywhere.

Uranus profile and news (The Planetary Society Weblog)
Happy Uranian Equinox, a once-in-a-half-lifetime event (Science Blog)
Seasons on Uranus (American Museum of Natural History's Hayden Planetarium)

Keck II composite image of Uranus taken on May 28, 2007 using two different types of infrared light. Credit: W. M. Keck Observatory (Marcos van Dam)

This Day In History: Dec. 6

This Day in History

1712: The last issue of the Spectator, an influential 18th-century journal written by English essayists Sir Richard Steele and Joseph Addison, appears.
1790: Philadelphia becomes the U.S. capital, succeeding New York City. (It remains the nation's capital until Washington, D.C., takes on the function in 1800.)
1865: The 13th Amendment is ratified, abolishing slavery.
1917: Much of Halifax, Nova Scotia, is destroyed by a tidal wave caused when 2 ships, 1 loaded with explosives, collide in Halifax Harbor.
1969: A free rock concert at the Altamont Speedway in Livermore, CA, ends with the fatal stabbing of a fan by a member of Hell's Angels, who were hired as security guards.
1973: Gerald Ford is sworn in as vice president, following the resignation of Spiro Agnew.
1997: In a runoff election, Lee Brown is elected the first black mayor of Houston, TX.

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

More Dangers Found in Toys

Truman_and_toys.jpg On the heels of recalls of lead paint-tainted toys come concerns about other dangerous chemicals. The nonprofit Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) submitted more than 250 commercially available "suspect" items to government-certified laboratories for testing. The lead lab detected asbestos in several products--including the CSI Fingerprint Examination Kit, one of this season's popular toys--a finding confirmed by two other labs.

A spokesperson for Planet Toys, which manufactures and distributes the kit, is quoted with the following response in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

"The kit has been tested and has met all safety standards requirements as set by toy safety agencies and legislation, including the Consumer Product Safety Commission. ... The agencies don't require asbestos testing and therefore we have never been apprised of any unacceptable levels of asbestos."

About 1,200 children's products were tested in a separate study commissioned by consumer and environmental health groups. More than one-third of those products were found to contain lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic, or other dangerous compounds.

The Wall Street Journal notes though that "It isn't clear whether the group's lead-testing methodology is similar to the one used by the Consumer Products [sic] Safety Commission, which hasn't announced recalls for most of the toys on the list." The list can be viewed at HealthyToys.org.

Links:
"Asbestos Turns Up in Toys, Children's Clay" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
"Over One-Third of Toys in Test Contain Dangerous Chemicals" (Wall Street Journal)
"ADAO Releases Findings That Reveal Evidence of Asbestos in Everyday Products" (ADAO press release; PDF)
Consumer Product Safety Commission, including list of product recalls and searchable database of product safety standards

Photo: "Truman and Dora Toys (Since Recalled)" by gisarah.

This Day In History: Dec. 6

This Day in History

1712: The last issue of the Spectator, an influential 18th-century journal written by English essayists Sir Richard Steele and Joseph Addison, appears.
1790: Philadelphia becomes the U.S. capital, succeeding New York City. (It remains the nation's capital until Washington, D.C., takes on the function in 1800.)
1865: The 13th Amendment is ratified, abolishing slavery.
1917: Much of Halifax, Nova Scotia, is destroyed by a tidal wave caused when 2 ships, 1 loaded with explosives, collide in Halifax Harbor.
1969: A free rock concert at the Altamont Speedway in Livermore, CA, ends with the fatal stabbing of a fan by a member of Hell's Angels, who were hired as security guards.
1973: Gerald Ford is sworn in as vice president, following the resignation of Spiro Agnew.
1997: In a runoff election, Lee Brown is elected the first black mayor of Houston, TX.

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

December 5, 2007

The World at a Glance: Arts and Media

World Almanac 2008 Stacks Once again, here's a peek at "The World at a Glance" from the pages of The World Almanac 2008. This time, some assorted facts about Arts and Media.


Number Ones

Top-grossing U.S. movie, 2006: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, $423.3 mil
All-time top-grossing U.S. movie: Titanic (1997), $600.8 mil
#1 syndicated TV program, 2006-07: ESPN NFL Regular Season, 8.7% of TV households
All-time most watched TV program: M*A*S*H finale, Feb. 28, 1983, 50.2 mil households
#1 commercial radio format in U.S., 2007: Country, 2,034 stations
#1 recorded music genre in U.S., 2006: Rock, 34% of all music sold
All-time top-selling U.S. album: Eagles/Their Greatest Hits 1971-75, Eagles, 29 mil copies


Then and Now


1957 2007
Highest-rated TV show I Love Lucy (1956-57) American Idol (2006-07)
Best Picture Oscar Around the World in 80 Days The Departed
Emmy Awards
Comedy The Phil Silvers Show 30 Rock
Drama Requiem for a Heavyweight The Sopranos
Album of the Year Grammy1 No award2 Taking the Long Way, Dixie Chicks
Tony Awards
Drama A Long Day's Journey Into Night The Coast of Utopia
Musical My Fair Lady Spring Awakening
Pulitzer Prizes
Fiction No award3 The Road, Cormac McCarthy
Drama A Long Day's Journey Into Night, Eugene O'Neill Rabbit Hole, David Lindsay-Abaire
(1) Awards for 1956 (Then) and 2006 (Now). (2) The first Grammy Awards weren't awarded until February 1958--the same year that the first Gold Records were certified. 3) No prize for Fiction awarded in 1957.

This Day In History: Dec. 5

This Day in History

1492: Christopher Columbus, on his first voyage to the New World, lands on the island of Hispaniola (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic).
1775: The first Phi Beta Kappa chapter is founded, at the College of William and Mary.
1933: Prohibition ends with the ratification of the 21st Amendment, repealing the 18th Amendment.
1955: The AFL-CIO is created by the merger of the nation's 2 largest labor organizations, the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations.
1978: The U.S. spacecraft Pioneer Venus 1 reaches Venus and begins mapping its surface.
1988: Evangelist Jim Bakker and a top aide are indicted for defrauding contributors to his PTL ministry.
1994: The START I Treaty, reducing the number of nuclear warheads held by the U.S. and the USSR by about 25 percent, comes into force.
1996: Pres. Bill Clinton announces his choice of Madeleine Albright as secretary of state, making her the highest-ranking woman government official in U.S. history.
2003: A Chechen suicide bomber kills 45 and injures more than 150 on a commuter train in Yessentuki, Russia.

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

December 4, 2007

True, Half-True, or Pants on Fire!?

Pants_On_Fire.jpg We previously blogged about Annenberg Political Fact Check, or FactCheck.org, which tracks the veracity of statements put out by public officials.

A recent Utne article highlighted some similar projects, including PolitiFact.com. PolitiFact.com is a joint project of the St. Petersburg Times and Congressional Quarterly. Statements made by the 2008 presidential candidates, including ones attacking their political opponents, are subjected to PolitiFact's "Truth-O-Meter."

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, for example, was called out for being "pants-on-fire" wrong for his claim during a Oct. 21, 2007, debate in Orlando that "The signers of the Declaration of Independence were 'brave people, most of whom, by the way, were clergymen.'" PolitiFact.com notes that only one out of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence was a clergyman. (Huckabee could have double-checked the accuracy of his statement against the World Almanac 2008, which lists on page 496 the occupation of each signer of the declaration. Half of those who signed were judges or lawyers.)

What's also neat about PolitiFact.com is that each entry lists who researched the statement and the sources they used, along with links. That kind of transparency makes it possible for readers to fact-check the fact-checkers and ensure, ideally, that the project maintains its commitment to the truth instead of to political interests.

Links:
PolitiFact.com
"The Fifth Estate" (Utne Reader)

Previously: "Checking Up On Your Favorite Candidates*"

Image: Democratic candidate John Edwards earned a pants-on-fire rating for his claim in a TV ad that as president, he would take away health care from Congressional and administration members if universal health care coverage was not passed. Problem is that presidents don't have that authority—they only have the power to introduce legislation to take away health care.

This Day In History: Dec. 4

This Day in History

1783: Gen. George Washington bids farewell to his officers at Fraunces Tavern in New York City.
1961: Floyd Patterson retains the world heavyweight boxing title by knocking out Tom McNeeley.
1991: Journalist Terry Anderson becomes the last U.S. hostage freed in Lebanon.
1997: Representatives of 121 nations conclude a meeting in Ottawa, Canada at which they sign a treaty banning the use and manufacture of land mines.
2001: The Israeli military advances to within 200 yards of Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat's Ramallah headquarters two days after a suicide bomber killed himself and 15 others in Haifa.

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

December 3, 2007

This Day In History: Dec. 3

This Day in History

1818: Illinois is admitted to the Union as the 21st state.
1901: U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt outlines a number of measures designed to secure a greater measure of social justice in his first message to Congress.
1967: Dr. Christiaan Barnard performs the first successful heart transplant in Cape Town, South Africa.
1971: India intervenes militarily to end Pakistan's attempt to keep West Pakistan (now Bangladesh ) from becoming independent.
1973: The unmanned spacecraft Pioneer 10 passes Jupiter.
1984: Deadly gas leaks from a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, killing more than 2,000 people and injuring 200,000.
1992: The UN Security Council votes to send troops to Somalia, stricken by famine.

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

December 1, 2007

This Day In History: Dec. 1

This Day in History

1918: U.S. and British troops begin occupying Germany following the end of World War I.
1933: In Germany, a law is enacted by which the Nazi party is "indissolubly joined to the state."
1943: The U.S. government releases a joint communiqué signed by U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt, British prime minister Winston Churchill, and Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek, in which they declare the determination of their governments to prosecute the war until Japan surrenders unconditionally. Gasoline rationing begins in the United States.
1955: Rosa Parks refuses to give her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery, AL. She is arrested, triggering boycotts against racial segregation.
1957: After years of political turmoil in Colombia, a plebiscite approves the plan of the Liberal and Conservative parties to share all government offices equally for 12 years.
1959: Twelve nations sign a treaty to make Antarctica a scientific preserve free of military activity.
1997: Representatives of more than 150 nations begin meeting in Kyoto, Japan, to consider a treaty limiting the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
2000: Vicente Fox Quesada, a conservative reformer, is inaugurated as president in Mexico, ending more than seven decades of rule by the PRI party.

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

December 1—World AIDS Day

HIV_global_2006.jpg

With December 1 being World AIDS Day, I thought I would highlight some relevant statistics from The World Almanac 2008 (page 851):

  • Global HIV prevalence leveled off somewhat in 2006. But the total number living with HIV/AIDS continues to rise because new cases outpace HIV/AIDS-related deaths.
  • 40% of new HIV/AIDS infections in 2006 were in young adults 15-24 years old.
  • Women made up 48%, or just under half, of all adults (ages 15 and older) living with HIV/AIDS in 2006.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa was the worst-affected region. In 2006, about 62.5% of all those living with HIV/AIDS were in sub-Saharan Africa. The epidemic was most intense in Swaziland.

The above map shows the prevalence of HIV infections in adults worldwide in 2006. Infection rates range from less than 0.1% in the tan areas to 15%-34% in the dark red areas. The original map can be seen in greater detail here.

The UNAIDS program estimates that 33.2 million [30.6-36.1 million] people were living with HIV/AIDS by year-end 2007. Keep in mind, however, that this estimate is not directly comparable to previously published statistics. Revised estimates for 2007 and previous years were released in November, based on improved methods of gathering data and observation of populations. The latest HIV/AIDS statistics are available at the following sites:
2007 AIDS Epidemic Update (UNAIDS)
WHO and HIV/AIDS (World Health Organization)

Map: "A global view of HIV infection, 2006." Data source: WHO/UNAIDS. Courtesy of WHO.

December 25, 2007

A Remembrance of Christmas past

Dece 1983.pngWhile those schmaltzy Hallmark commercials can produce a tear or two during the holidays, one photograph that consistently opens my tear ducts (from laughter) is the 1983 picture of first lady Nancy Reagan sitting on Mr. T's lap. Oh Nancy, what were you thinking?

What brought these two superstars together was their common anti-drug stance. Reagan inaugurated the "Just Say No" to drugs campaign in the 1980s, and Mr. T even recorded a song titled"No Dope No Drugs" in 1984.

Where are they now? Nancy Reagan, 87, lives in Bel Air, California, and is a vocal supporter of stem cell research. Mr. T (Lawrence Tero), formerly of The A-Team, could be found on the 2006 TV Land reality show I Pity the Fool, in which T traveled around America giving advice and solving problems.

About December 2007

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

November 2007 is the previous archive.

January 2008 is the next archive.

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

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