The World Almanac E-Newsletter

Volume 4, Number 3 - March 2004



What's in this issue?

March Events
Holidays - National and International
This Day in History - March
March Birthdays
Featured Location of the Month: Topeka, Kansas
Obituaries - February 2004
Special Feature: Three Mile Island, 25 Years Later
Science in the News
Chronology - Events of February 2004
Offbeat News Stories
From The World Almanac: Internet Lingo
Links of the Month
How to Reach Us

March Events

March is American Red Cross Month, National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and Women's History Month

March 4-7 - Crufts Dog Show (Birmingham, England); Fulton (TX) Oysterfest
March 5-7 - IAAF World Indoor Track & Field Championships (Budapest, Hungary)
March 6 - Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race begins (in Anchorage, AK)
March 7-14 - Philadelphia (PA) Flower Show
March 12-14 - American Crossword Puzzle Tournament (Stamford, CT)
March 14-16 - London Book Fair
March 16-21 - Ann Arbor (MI) Film Festival
March 16-April 5 - Men's NCAA Division I Basketball Championships
March 18-April 17 - Festival of Houses and Gardens (Charleston, SC)
March 19 - Swallows return to San Juan Capistrano, CA
March 19-21 - Northeast Great Outdoors Show (Albany, NY)
March 20 - First Day of Spring (North America)
March 20-April 6 - Women's NCAA Division I Basketball Championships
March 22-28 - Kraft Nabisco Championship women's golf tournament (Rancho Mirage, CA)
March 27-April 11 - National Cherry Blossom Festival (Washington, DC)

March Holidays

March 1 - Ashura (Muharram 10); Beer Day (Iceland)
March 2 - Read Across America Day; Peace Corps Day
March 7 - Purim
March 8 - International Women's Day
March 15 - Ides of March - Beware!!
March 17 - St. Patrick's Day
March 29 - Youth Day (Taiwan)


The UN Population Division predicts that by 2015 the top 5 most populated urban areas in the world will be Tokyo, Japan, Dhaka, Bangladesh, Mumbai, India, São Paulo, Brazil, and Delhi, India.

This Day in History - March






Yellowstone National Park is established by Congress as the 1st U.S. national park.



Air Force pilots flying in the B-50 Superfortress Lucky Lady II complete the first nonstop round-the-world flight.



The first issue of Time magazine is published.



Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt appoints Frances Perkins the secretary of labor, making her the 1st woman cabinet member.



Voyager 1 encounters Jupiter, relaying data on its rings and moons.



The Michelangelo computer virus is triggered in personal computers but does only minimal damage.



In the French Revolution, Frances' National Assembly adopts the guillotine as a method of execution.



Joe Frazier defeats Muhammad Ali in 15 rounds for the world heavyweight crown.



Eastern Air Lines files for bankruptcy.



The 1st paper money is issued in the United States.



A huge blizzard begins to pound the eastern United States, eventually dumping 40-50 inches of snow and causing more than 400 deaths.



Elizabeth Smart, 15, who had been abducted from her home in Salt Lake City, Utah in June 2002, is found alive.



Author Clifford Irving admits that his purported interviews with and biography of multimillionaire Howard Hughes were hoaxes.



Eli Whitney patents the cotton gin.



Maine is admitted to the Union as the 23rd state.



Russia becomes a republic when Tsar Nicholas II abdicates.



The first liquid-fuel rocket flight takes place, launched by Robert G. Goddard in Massachusetts.



Arab oil-producing countries lift their total ban on oil exports to the United States.



The final episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show is aired.



A nerve-gas attack on the Tokyo subway system leaves 12 people dead and 5,000 injured.



Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. begins his march from Selma to Montgomery, AL, to demand federal protection of blacks' voting rights.



Arthur Schawlow and Charles Towne receive the 1st patent for a laser.



Virgil Grissom and John Young orbit the earth 3 times in Gemini 3.



German scientist Robert Koch discovers the tuberculosis bacillus.



A New York City building containing the Triangle Shirtwaist Co. factory catches fire, killing 146 workers, mostly young immigrant women.



Israeli Prime Min. Menachem Begin and Egyptian Pres. Anwar Sadat sign the Camp David peace accord.



A 9.2-magnitude earthquake strikes Alaska, killing 131.



In the Crimean War, Britain declares war on France and Russia.



England's Parliament passes an act establishing the Dominion of Canada, uniting Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick.



Dr. Crawford W. Long becomes the 1st physician to use ether during surgery.



The Eiffel Tower is built in Paris.

Born This Day - March






Roger Daltrey, singer/musician (London, England)



Jennifer Jones, actress (Tulsa, OK)



Herschel Walker, football player (Wrightsville, GA)



Kevin Johnson, basketball player (Sacramento, CA)



Penn Jillette, magician (Chicago, IL)



Sarah Caldwell, conductor (Maryville, MO)



Janet Guthrie, auto racer (Iowa City, IA)



Cyd Charisse, actress/dander (Amarillo, TX)



Jeffrey Osborne, musician/songwriter (Providence, RI)



Prince Edward, youngest son of England's Queen Elizabeth II (London, England)



Sam Donaldson, TV journalist (El Paso, TX)



Wally Schirra, astronaut (Hackensack, NJ)



Glenne Headly, actress (New London, CT)



Horton Foote, playwright (Wharton, TX)



Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court justice (Brooklyn, NY)



Jerry Lewis, actor/comedian (Newark, NJ)



Mia Hamm, champion soccer player (Selma, AL)



Queen Latifah, rap singer/actress (East Orange, NJ)



Philip Roth, novelist (Newark, NJ)



Brian Mulroney, Canadian prime minister (Baie-Corneau, Quebec, Canada)



Rosie O'Donnell, TV personality/actress (Commack, NY)



Kurt Malden, actor (Chicago, IL)



Roger Bannister, runner and 1st man to break the 4-minute mile (Harrow, Middlesex, England)



Lara Flynn Boyle, actress (Davenport, IA)



Gloria Steinem, author/feminist (Toledo, OH)



Elaine Chao, labor secretary (Taipei, Taiwan)



Cale Yarborough, auto racer (Timmonsville, SC)



Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Advisor (Poland)



Walt Frazier, basketball player (Atlanta, GA)



Norah Jones, singer/songwriter (New York, NY)



Liz Claiborne, fashion designer (Brussels, Belgium)


There were more than 4.6 million surviving U.S. veterans of WWII in 2002.


Location: Capital of Kansas and seat of Shawnee County, on the Kansas (Kaw) River, in the NE part of the state; incorporated 1857. It is a commercial and manufacturing center situated in a fertile wheat and cattle-raising area.

Population (2002): 122,103

Mayor: James A. McClinton (Non-Partisan)

March Temperatures: Normal high of 55 degrees; normal low of 32 degrees

Colleges & Universities: Washburn University of Topeka

Events: Topeka Home Show, Kansas Expocentre (March 5-7); Spirit, Mind, & Body Fair, Kansas Expocentre (March 13-14); St. Patrick's Day Parade, Downtown Topeka (March 17); Grow Your Farmers' Market Workshop, Memorial Hall Auditorium (March 20); Aviation Education Class, Combat Air Museum (March 22-25); Touch of Country Arts & Crafts Fair (March 27-28)

Places to visit: the Alice C. Sabatini Gallery; the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site (commemorating the 1954 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that declared public school segregation unconstitutional); Cedar Crest (residence of the governor); the Combat Air Museum; the Curtis House (historic residence of former Vice Pres. Charles Curtis); Gage Park; Heartland Orthodox Christian Museum; Historic Ward-Meade Park; the Kansas Center for Historical Research; the Kansas State Historical Society Museum; the Mulvane Art Museum of Washburn University; the Reinisch Rose Garden and Doran Rock Gardens in Gage Park; the State House; the Topeka Art Guild Gallery; the Topeka Zoological Park

Tallest Building: Bank of America Building (235 feet, 16 stories)

History: The community was platted in 1854 near the dividing point of the old Santa Fe and Oregon trails and developed as a division center for the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad. For several years it was the hub of conflict between the proslavery and abolitionist factions in the Kansas Territory. Topeka became the temporary territorial capital in 1859 and was selected as the permanent state capital in 1861, when Kansas entered the Union. The city endured major floods in 1903 and 1951 and a tornado in 1966. The Menninger Clinic, which opened its doors to psychiatric patients in 1925, established Topeka as a leading U.S. center for the treatment of mental illness; the financially troubled clinic moved to Houston, Texas, in 2003.

Birthplace of: actress Annette Bening (1958); poet Gwendolyn Brooks (1917); former U.S. vice president Charles Curtis (1860); Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS; 1936)


Obituaries in February

Boorstin, Daniel J., 89, Pulitzer Prize-winning cultural historian who served as the librarian of Congress from 1975 to 1987; Washington, DC, Feb. 28, 2004.

Bruce, Dr. Robert A., 87, cardiologist who developed multistage treadmill stress testing for heart disease in the early 1960s; Seattle, WA, Feb. 12, 2004.

Bullock, Alan (Lord Bullock of Leafield), 89, Oxford University-based British historian who wrote the first major post-World War II biography of Nazi German leader Adolf Hitler; Oxfordshire, England, Feb. 2, 2004.

de la Hunty, Shirley Strickland, 78, Australian track and field athlete whose seven Olympic medals were the most won by an Australian athlete and who, in 1956, became the first woman to successfully defend an Olympic title when she won the 80-meter hurdles at the Melbourne Games; Perth, Australia, Feb. 17, 2004.

Lenart, Jozef, 80, premier of Czechoslovakia, 1963-68, and head of that country's Slovak Communist Party from 1970 until 1988, the year before the collapse of communism in Czechoslovakia; Prague, Czech Republic, Feb. 11, 2004.

Lopez Portillo, Jose, 83, president of Mexico, 1976-82, who presided over an exceedingly corrupt administration that led Mexico to the brink of economic collapse; Mexico City, Mexico, Feb. 17, 2004.

Miner, Jan, 86, actress best known for portraying Madge the Manicurist in Palmolive dish detergent commercials from 1966 to 1992; Bethel, CT, Feb. 15, 2004.

Partridge, Frances, 103, diarist and autobiographer who chronicled the doings of the renowned Bloomsbury group of British writers, artists and intellectuals, of which she was the last survivor; London, England, Feb. 5, 2004.

Ryan, Claude, 79, Canadian journalist turned politician who was instrumental in defeating a 1980 referendum calling for the secession of Quebec from Canada; Montreal, Canada, Feb. 9, 2004.

Stephen, John, 69, Scottish-born fashion designer, known as the "King of Carnaby Street," after the London street where in the 1960s he flamboyantly outfitted such male celebrities as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones; London, England, Feb. 1, 2004.

Trajkovski, Boris, 47, president of Macedonia since late 1999; in a plane crash near Stolac, Bosnia, Feb. 26, 2004.

Wotherspoon, Adella, 100, the last survivor of the deadliest disaster in New York City history until Sept. 11, 2001 - the burning and sinking of the steamboat General Slocum on June 15, 1904; Berkeley Heights, N.J, Jan. 26, 2004.

SPECIAL FEATURE: Three Mile Island, 25 Years Later

by Joseph Gustaitis

It has now been 25 years since a series of cooling system breakdowns caused a major accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant 10 miles south of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on March 28, 1979. Radiation escaped into the air, the plant was shut down, and, all of a sudden, a technology that once seemed to be the perfect solution to the world's growing energy needs became suspect.

A much worse nuclear accident occurred just over seven years later, at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine. That accident spewed clouds of radiation that spread over an area of about 10,000 square miles and several other countries; it affected, directly or indirectly, about 9 million people according to United Nations estimates.

The Accident

In 1979, Three Mile Island's was one of 69 operating nuclear power plants in the U.S., which together supplied 11.4% of the nation's electricity. The trouble took place in a unit that had been operating for only a few months. It began in the early hours of March 28. Pumps that pushed water through part of the plant's cooling system shut down, and the backup pumps that were then activated had been disconnected from that part of the system. A chain of related events led to the core of the reactor overheating. About half the core was damaged, as some uranium pellets either melted through or ruptured the tubes that contained them. To relieve pressure as the core was cooled, some radioactive gases were released from the containment building into the atmosphere.

A new burst of high radiation was released into the air two days later, causing more concern. After consulting with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), Pennsylvania Governor Richard L. Thornburgh urged pregnant women and preschool children within a five-mile radius of the plant to leave the area. Though NRC officials said the reactor faced "the ultimate risk of meltdown" and the entire population within five miles of the plant might have to be evacuated, most experts believed the actual amounts of radiation released were quite small. By April 2, the day after President Jimmy Carter visited the region, experts reported that a large hydrogen bubble that had formed at the top of the reactor pressure vessel had shown a "dramatic drop" in size. The next day, the bubble was gone and the chance of a catastrophe had all but vanished.

The crisis had passed, but the reaction was only beginning. The accident set off demonstrations against nuclear power around the world. To take just one example, in Hannover, West Germany, as many 50,000 demonstrators turned out to protest a planned facility to process and store nuclear waste, shouting "We all live in Pennsylvania!" In the United States, the accident led to more stringent safety regulations governing nuclear power plant operations, and to increased oversight by the NRC. A 1990 report found no increase in diseases caused by radiation exposure around Three Mile Island in the years following the accident.

The Path to Nuclear Power

The development of nuclear energy production began with U.S. efforts to create an atomic bomb during World War II. Scientists realized at the time that nuclear energy had more potential than merely powering weapons and that it could be used for a benign purpose. After the war's end, the electric utility industry became interested and, urged by the federal government, began to invest tens of billions of dollars in nuclear technology. At the time, most electricity was being generated by the burning of coal; it seemed ideal to replace this polluting, environmentally deleterious technology with one that was clean, safe, and cheap. President Dwight D. Eisenhower presented a plan dubbed "Atoms for Peace" to the United Nations in 1953. This led to the creation of the International Atomic Energy Agency. During the Eisenhower administration the 1946 Atomic Energy Act was amended to allow private companies to own nuclear reactors to generate commercial electricity. The first nuclear reactor to generate electricity for a utility began operation in Pennsylvania in 1957 -- and its opening prompted the first public anti-nuclear power demonstration. The first wholly commercial nuclear power plant started in 1960. Nuclear technology got a huge boost when the Arab oil embargo of 1973 sent fuel prices soaring and utility companies scurrying to increase nuclear power plant capacity.

Safety Concerns

A vocal opposition to nuclear energy production had begun to form even before the Three Mile Island accident -- a coalition of consumer advocates (Ralph Nader prominent among them), environmentalists, community groups, and concerned scientists. In 1974 a technician at an Oklahoma plutonium processing plant, where several accidents had taken place, contacted the Atomic Energy Commission to accuse its owners of safety lapses. She died in a car crash a short time later, and the case became the subject of a feature film. In 1975, a fire was set off by an electrician's candle at the Brown's Ferry nuclear plant in Alabama, the nation's largest. It resulted in the destruction of the emergency core cooling system, the reactor core isolation cooling system and all important regulators and emergency cooling systems, although a meltdown was avoided. Ironically, only two weeks before the Three Mile Island incident, the release of a film entitled The China Syndrome, a disturbing fictional account of an accident at a nuclear power plant, had attracted much notice.

The Three Mile Island accident fueled a long series of disputes over the licensing of new nuclear power plants and questions about the safety of existing ones. In 1984, for example, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission denied a license to a nuclear reactor in Illinois -- this was the first time the NRC had denied such a license. Several U.S. states enacted laws restricting the further development of nuclear power unless a list of safety concerns could be fulfilled, and public opinion polls, which once showed a majority of people in favor of nuclear power development, now found two-thirds of those questioned against it. In a 1980 referendum Sweden voted to phase it out entirely over 25 years. Although Sweden's agenda has moved slowly (the country has closed only one plant so far and still has 12 in operation), the nation remains committed to it, and Germany, Spain, the Netherlands and Belgium also established similar schedules for ending the use of nuclear energy.

Safety issues within nuclear power plants tend to focus on management of the utility and hardware problems. In the first case, many problems at plants have been attributed to errors by managers, operators, and maintenance staff. This problem issues of training, staffing, emergency procedures, maintenance, and so on -- all of which were raised in the aftermath of the Three Mile Island accident. Critics are unconvinced that these difficulties can be surmounted. The hardware side of the equation revolves around concerns over the design of new plants and the conviction that no design can be made foolproof, as well as aging equipment, which can lead to corrosion in tubes and cracks in pipes. In addition to safety issues, economic ones came to the fore. In the 1970s nuclear power seemed economically sensible, but after that decade, the demand for electricity leveled off, the prices of fossil fuels stabilized or even declined, and the price tags of nuclear power plants, which were already notoriously expensive to build, soared -- not to mention the insurance rates.

Changing Scene

As the 21st century dawned, however, many began to reconsider nuclear energy. The computer revolution caused the demand for electricity to soar. It became increasingly apparent that reliance on fuel supplies from the volatile Middle East was a shaky proposition for the world energy supply, and some energy strategists arguing that Earth's supply of oil was rapidly being used up. A 2004 book entitled The End of Oil, by Paul Roberts, lays out the case that within 30 years, by even conservative estimates, the world will have consumed most of the world's easily accessible oil.


According to the Census Bureau, Americans ate an average of 24 pounds of candy per person in 2002, down from 27 pounds per capita in 1997.

Science in the News: Gorillas on the Rebound

Mountain gorillas, the most critically endangered of all gorilla subspecies, are making a comeback, according to a census conducted late last year by the International Gorilla Conservation Program--a joint initiative of the World Wildlife Fund, the African Wildlife Foundation and Flora and Fauna International.

The good news came as a surprise to conservationists, who have watched gorilla populations across Africa (the only continent in which gorillas are found in the wild) shrink over the past several decades. The decline has been attributed to habitat loss, poaching (illegal hunting), and, in some regions, the deadly Ebola virus. Last year, researchers determined that in the West African nation of Gabon, the gorilla population had dropped by more than 50% in less than twenty years.

Experts had expected similarly grim results from this latest survey, which was conducted in the Virungas--volcanic highlands in East Africa. The Virunga forest is thought to be one of two remaining refuges for the mountain gorilla (known to scientists as the subspecies Gorilla beringei beringei). But since the early 1990s, bloody civil wars and political uprisings have plagued Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)--three countries whose borders meet in the Virungas--placing increased pressure on the already dwindling gorilla population. Not only did one million Rwandan refugees, fleeing civil war at home, move through the Virunga forest, but many militant groups established bases there, damaging the habitat and sometimes hunting the gorillas for food or inadvertently killing them in crossfire.

From 1989 until 2003, when a peace agreement was signed in the DRC, the political turmoil made it too dangerous to conduct a full survey of the Virunga gorilla population. In fact, many park rangers who continued to patrol the forest during this time were killed by rebels. So, prior to the recent survey, no one knew exactly how bad--or, in fact, how good--things in the Virungas really were.

To conduct the survey, six teams traversed the forest for six weeks, counting gorilla nests and analyzing dung. Based on their findings, the researchers estimated the Virunga mountain gorilla population to be about 380-up 56 individuals, or 17%, from a 1989 estimate. Combined with a 2002 estimate of the other known mountain gorilla population, which live in Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, that brings the world total to about 700. "It's such a phenomenal increase in such a slowly reproducing species," gorilla research Bill Weber, of the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York City, told ScienceNow.

The marked increase may be the result of the 1979 Mountain Gorilla Project--a collaborative effort by several nature conservancy organizations and the Rwandan government to promote mountain gorilla "eco-tourism" programs. These programs offer tourists the opportunity to observe gorillas in the wild while generating income for the local population. By 1990, mountain gorilla eco-tourism had become a significant source of revenue for Rwanda and neighboring countries, giving the local population a strong incentive to protect the animals and their habitat. In fact, according to Amy Vedder, co-founder of the Mountain Gorilla Project, even the warring factions in Rwanda declared that they wouldn't harm the gorillas. "Both sides recognized that, in part, the world knew of Rwanda because of gorillas, and also that through tourism [the gorillas] were a great economic asset to the country," she told National Geographic.

Despite this heartening success, efforts to prevent poaching and to preserve the gorillas' habitats must continue if the animals are to be saved from extinction. "We must not be complacent," said Patrick Bergin, President and CEO of the African Wildlife Foundation. "The slow rate of reproduction among mountain gorillas makes the challenge of keeping these precious creatures alive ever so great."

Celestial Events for March 2004

Mercury reappears in the early evening sky, very low in the W during the first half of the month.

Venus, higher in the W, pairs with the Moon on the 24th with Mars above the pair.

Mars is now in the W after sunset, setting in a few hours.

Jupiter, in the E after sunset, is prominent for most of the night.

Saturn is very high in the E after sunset.

Moon passes Saturn on the 1st and 28th, Jupiter on the 6th, Neptune on the 17th, Uranus on the 18th, Mercury on the 22nd, Venus on the 24th, and Mars on the 26th. Watch for the waxing crescent Moon above Mercury on the 22nd, with the other four planets visible with the naked eye stretching across the sky above the Moon.

  • Mar. 1 - Moon passes 5 degrees north of Saturn.
  • Mar. 4 - Mercury at superior conjunction, behind the Sun. Jupiter at opposition.
  • Mar. 5 - Venus enters Aries.
  • Mar. 6 - Moon passes 3 degrees north of Jupiter.
  • Mar. 7 - Saturn stationary, resumes direct motion
  • Mar. 11 - Sun enters Pisces
  • Mar. 13 - Mars enters Taurus.
  • Mar. 17 - Moon passes 5 degrees south of Neptune.
  • Mar. 18 - Moon passes 5 degrees south of Uranus.
  • Mar. 20 - Vernal Equinox at 1:49 a.m. EST (6:49 UTC); spring begins in the northern hemisphere, autumn in the southern hemisphere.
  • Mar. 21 - Mercury at perihelion. Venus at perihelion
  • Mar. 22 - Moon passes 4 degrees south of Mercury.
  • Mar. 24 - Moon passes 2 degrees south of Venus. Pluto stationary, begins retrograde motion.
  • Mar. 26 - Moon passes 0.8 degrees north of Mars.
  • Mar. 27 - Sun barely touches constellation of Cetus.
  • Mar. 28 - Moon passes 5 degrees north of Saturn.
  • Mar. 29 - Mercury at greatest eastern elongation of 19 degrees (E of the Sun and setting after the Sun). Venus at greatest eastern elongation of 46 degrees. Venus enters Taurus.

CHRONOLOGY - February 2004


Commission to Study Intelligence Breakdown - Bush administration officials said Feb. 1 that a bipartisan commission would investigate why prewar intelligence reports that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction had apparently been wrong. Sec. of State Colin Powell indicated Feb. 2 that he might not have recommended military action if he had not thought Iraq had WMDs, but then said the war was still ultimately "the right thing to do." On Feb. 3, Britain began its own investigation of prewar intelligence. George Tenet, the Director of Central Intelligence, conceded Feb. 5 that the CIA had made misjudgments on Iraqi weapons, but denied that the agency had come under any pressure to shape its assessments a certain way. On Feb. 6 and 12, Bush named the 9 members of his commission, to be headed by U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Laurence Silberman and former Sen. Charles Robb (D, VA); the commission was to make its report in 2005. During a "Meet the Press" TV interview, broadcast Feb. 8, Pres. George W. Bush acknowledged that he might have been wrong in claiming, before the war, that Iraq had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.

Bush Budget Shows $521 Bil Deficit - On Feb. 2, Pres. Bush submitted to Congress a $2.4 tril budget proposal for the 2005 fiscal year that included a deficit of $364 bil. His estimated deficit for the current 2004 fiscal year was put at $521 bil, which would be a record in dollar terms, though not as a percentage of GNP. The national debt was projected to reach $8.1 tril by the end of fiscal 2005. Bush proposed eliminating 65 federal programs and cutting many others, a response to complaints from fiscal conservatives. He urged that temporary tax cuts enacted during his administration be made permanent. Alan Greenspan, the Federal Reserve chairman, Feb. 25 urged Congress not to cut deficits by raising taxes, but by cutting entitlement programs, including Social Security and Medicare.

Lethal Poison Forces Senate Buildings to Close - A suspicious powder was found Feb. 2 on letter-opening machines in the mailroom of Sen. Bill Frist (R, TN), the Senate majority leader. The powder proved to contain ricin, which is lethal if inhaled or ingested. Three Senate office buildings were closed Feb. 3 and reopened Feb. 5. An investigation was launched.

Kerry Leads Democratic Nomination Race-Throughout February Sen. John Kerry (MA) continued to win primaries and caucuses in his pursuit of the Democratic nomination for president. On Feb. 3 he won in 5 states - Arizona, Delaware, Missouri, New Mexico, and Arizona, while Sen. John Edwards (NC) won the primary in South Carolina, his native state and Gen. Wesley Clark (ret.) won narrowly over Edwards in Oklahoma. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, a centrist Democrat who had made his last stand in Delaware, withdrew Feb. 3 after getting only 11% of the vote there. Kerry continued to win, in Michigan and Washington Feb. 7, in Maine Feb. 8, and in Virginia and Tennessee Feb. 10. Clark, who had hoped to win Tennessee, instead finished 3rd and withdrew from the race,

Kerry edged Edwards, 40% to 34%, in Wisconsin Feb. 17. Former Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont got 18% and announced Feb. 18 that he was no longer actively seeking the presidency. In the last half of 2003, Dean had been seen as the front-runner, leading in the polls and raising large amounts of money over the Internet, but he failed to win a single primary. He had been pounded by other candidates as too liberal and too inexperienced to beat Pres, Bush in November, and several verbal missteps had also impaired his candidacy.

A coalition of 18 labor unions, including the Teamsters, endorsed Kerry Feb. 17. Then, on Feb. 19, the AFL-CIO, representing 13 mil members, added its backing. Labor endorsements for Kerry were a disappointment for Edwards, whose campaign had focused on the theme that everyday Americans were not faring well. By month's end, Kerry had amassed about 700 of the 2,162 delegates needed for the nomination; Edwards had about 200. Two other candidates, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (OH) and the Rev. Al Sharpton, remained in the contest, but were not considered serious prospects.

The Vietnam-era military service of Pres. Bush in the National Guard became an issue. On Feb. 1, Terrence McAuliffe, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said Bush had been AWOL (absent without leave). Bush disputed the charge and on Feb.10, 11, and 13 released military records. These showed he had performed services and received pay but did not prove whether he had he had attended sessions during a period May 1972 to May 1973 when assigned to the Alabama Guard unit.

Ralph Nader, the consumer advocate who won nearly 3% of the national vote in 2000 as presidential candidate of the Green Party, said Feb. 22 that he would run as an independent in 2004. Many Democrats opposed the move, arguing that the 97,000 votes he had gotten in Florida in 2000 had cost Vice Pres. Al Gore that state and the presidency. Meanwhile, Pres. Bush formally kicked off his campaign Feb. 23 with a speech in which he criticized Kerry for allegedly flip-flopping on key issues.

Jobs Continue to be a Top Issue - Democrats continued to criticize the Bush administration because the economic recovery did not include a surge in new jobs. The government reported Feb. 6 that the unemployment rate in January had edged downward to 5.6% from 5.7%. In January, 112,000 new nonfarm jobs had been added, up from a revised total of 16,000 in December, but still far short of projected goals. Gregory Mankiw, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, aroused controversy Feb. 9 when he said that exporting some service jobs to low-wage workers overseas, called outsourcing, was "a plus for the economy in the long run."

Ex-Enron CEO Indicted for Fraud and Conspiracy - Jeffrey Skilling, former president and CEO of the Enron Corp., was indicted Feb. 19 on federal charges of fraud, conspiracy, and insider trading. The indictment, in Houston, contended that he had disguised Enron's true financial performance while profiting from the sale of stock inflated by false earnings reports. He pleaded not guilty. In a separate civil suit filed Feb. 19, the Securities and Exchange Commission sought to take from him his "ill-gotten gains."

Gay Marriage Advances, Stirs Opposition - The debate over same-sex marriages, simmering for several years, came to a boil Feb. 4 when the Massachusetts Supreme Court held, 4-3, that the state could not, by approving civil unions, satisfy its 2003 decision striking down a state ban on gay marriage. The court held that civil unions were a discrimination against homosexuals. Gov. Mitt Romney (R) opposed the ruling. The state legislature, Feb. 12, ended an unsuccessful attempt to agree on an amendment to the state constitution that would ban gay marriage.

In another boost for gay marriage, on Feb. 12, the City and County of San Francisco began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, notwithstanding a state law that defined marriage as a union by a man and a woman. Within days, thousands of couples applied. On Feb. 19, San Francisco challenged the state law in court.

President Bush Feb. 24 stepped into the debate, calling for adoption of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would define marriage as a union of a man and a woman. He said, "a few judges and local authorities are presuming to change the most fundamental institution of civilization."

2 Studies Detail Abuse of Children by Priests - Two reports released Feb. 27 documented the sexual abuse of children by priests in the Roman Catholic Church from 1950 to 2002. It was found that 4,392 priests, representing 4% of the total number, had abused at least 10,657 children. The data were based on reports by bishops, and may have understated the dimension of the abuse. About 80% of the abuses were homosexual in nature. One of the studies, by academics at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, estimated that the abuses had cost the Church $572 mil, a figure some researchers unofficially put as high at $750 mil. The other report was issued by professional people appointed by American bishops. The reports were harsh in their criticism of some named bishops and Church officials.


Guerrillas Step Up Attacks in Iraq - Opposition elements seeking to disrupt Iraq's transition to self-government became more aggressive in February. Two suicide attacks Feb. 1 killed 109 people at the offices of the 2 leading Kurdish political parties in Erbil, in northern Iraq. At least 101 Iraqis were killed in 2 more suicide bombings, one on Feb. 10 south of Baghdad that killed applicants for the Iraqi police force, and the 2nd Feb. 11 in Baghdad that killed people seeking work with the Iraqi army. At least 25 people were killed when insurgents attacked a police station in Fallujah Feb. 14. Other attackers at the same time freed 87 prisoners. UN Sec. Gen. Kofi Annan said Feb. 19 that Iraq would not be able to conduct a direct national election before the scheduled June 30 transfer of sovereignty from the coalition forces. Ten people died in a bombing at a police station in Kirkuk Feb. 23.

Iran Elects Conservative Parliament - Islamic conservatives won a clear majority in parliamentary elections held Feb. 20 as some moderates boycotted the vote, protesting the Guardian Council's decision to bar about 2,000 moderate candidates, including some 80 incumbents, from running. The Council of Guardians was made up of 12 Islamic clerics and lawyers and was a stronghold of Islamic conservatism. On Feb 1 about one-third of the parliament had resigned to protest the disqualifications; the moderates had held a majority. Press reports indicated the boycott - fiercely opposed by Islamic conservatives - reduced turnout some, but not as much as the reformers had hoped.

Pakistani Scientist Shared Nuclear Technology - The scientist regarded as the principal figure in the development of Pakistan's nuclear weaponry admitted Feb. 4 that he had shared that lethal technology with other countries. Abdul Qadeer Khan admitted "errors in judgment" in providing designs and technology to Iran, Libya, and North Korea. He had provided information from 1989 until, in Libya's case, the fall of 2003. Libya had since agreed to give up its nuclear program. A report on Khan's conduct showed that he had made millions of dollars by sharing secrets and in deals with suppliers to Pakistan's nuclear program. Pres. Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan Feb. 5, paying tribute to Khan's role in developing Pakistan's bomb, called him "my hero" and pardoned him.

President of Haiti Resigns as Rebels Advance - Pres. Jean-Bertrand Aristide fled from Haiti by air Feb. 29 as rebels seeking his overthrow closed in on the capital of Port-au-Prince. Aristide went into exile despite previous vows that he would die first. He left a country in chaos, with gunmen shooting in the streets amid widespread looting. Pres. George W. Bush ordered Marines into Haiti, and French troops were also on the way.

The rebellion had gathered momentum in just a few weeks. The Gonaives Resistance Front Feb. 5 seized Gonaives, the country's 4th largest city. Aristide's opponents charged that he had rigged his successful re-election in 2000 and that his regime was corrupt. In the absence of an army, Aristide was supported by several thousand police officers and some armed civilians. Sec. of State Colin Powell said Feb. 17 that the U.S. would not send troops to end the turmoil in Haiti. Guy Philippe, a former police chief, took command of the insurgents Feb. 18. On Feb. 22 the rebels seized Cap Haitien, the nation's 2nd-largest city. Opposition leaders Feb. 24 rejected a U.S. proposal that the 2 sides share power.

Bombing in Moscow Subway Kills 39 - A female suicide bomber detonated an explosion from a suitcase, Feb. 6, on a subway car in Moscow. At least 39 people were killed and up to 200 were injured. Pres. Vladimir Putin of Russia said Feb. 6 that he was certain Chechen "bandits" were to blame.


New England Patriots Edge Carolina in Super Bowl - One of the most thrilling Super Bowl contests was decided Feb. 1 with 4 seconds to play when Adam Vinatieri kicked a 41-yard field goal for the New England Patriots. The Pats thus prevailed over the Carolina Panthers, 32-29. In the tumultuous 4th quarter, a total of 37 points were scored. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was named most valuable player for a game in which he completed 32 of 48 passes for 354 yards and 3 touchdowns. A TD toss by Carolina QB Jake Delhomme, for 85 yards to Muhsin Muhammad, was the longest completion ever in a Super Bowl. The Patriots were 17-2 for the regular season and the playoffs, and won their last 15 games. Bill Belichick coached New England. In 2002, the Pats had also won the National Football League title on a last-second kick by Vinatieri.

The half-time show, produced by the cable TV network MTV, proved controversial. At one point, during a dance duo, Justin Timberlake tore off part of Janice Jackson's top garment, exposing her right breast. The NFL and CBS (which telecast the Super Bowl), as well as many fans and government officials, deplored the incident. Federal Communications Chairman Michael Powell Feb. 11 called the incident a "new low" and said the FCC was investigating whether federal laws had been violated. Jackson and Timberlake apologized, though the latter, Feb. 2, blamed it on a "wardrobe malfunction."

Human Stem Cells Cloned - South Korean scientists announced Feb. 12 that they had successfully cloned human embryos and harvested their stem cells, a feat widely regarded as a major breakthrough. The aim behind the research was not to pave the way to cloned human beings, but to obtain a new source of embryonic stem cells, viewed by many researchers as the most promising avenue to a cure of diabetes, Parkinson's and other serious diseases. In the U.S., research involving embryonic stem cells had proved controversial and had not progressed rapidly after President Bush in 2001 announced restrictions on government funding for such research. .

Explosion on Train Kills 195 in Iran - At least 195 people were killed Feb. 18 when a runaway train carrying chemicals and fuel derailed in northeastern Iran. The subsequent fire and explosion injured hundreds more. The dead included officials and firefighters who had gone to the scene.

Film Presents Harsh Depiction of Christ's Death - A controversial motion picture depicting the last 12 hours of Christ's life opened Feb. 25. The film, The Passion of the Christ, produced and directed by the actor Mel Gibson, showed the scenes of Christ's crucifixion and death in graphic and brutal detail, which was varyingly perceived as realistic and moving or excessively violent. Others argued that the film was wrongheaded and possibly anti-Semitic in its portrayal of Jews and their role in the death of Christ.


R&B Singer Beyonce Big Winner at Grammy's - Tying a record for female singers, R&B singer Beyonce, won 5 Grammy Awards at ceremonies held Feb. 8., although none were in the top categories of song, record or album of the year. Best song went to "Dance With My Father," by Richard Marx and Luther Vandross. Vandross, recovering from a April 2003 stroke, sent a videotaped message, his first public remarks since his illness. British rock band Coldplay, won record of the year for their song "Clocks." Rap group OutKast, became the first group of the genre to win best album. Posthumous awards went to Warren Zevon (Contemporary Folk Album: "The Wind," and Rock Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocal: "Disorder in the House," Warren Zevon and Bruce Springsteen), George Harrison ("Pop Instrumental Performance: "Marwa Blues"), Johnny Cash (Short Form Music Video: "Hurt"), and June Carter Cash (Female Country Vocal Performance: "Keep on the Sunny Side," and Traditional Folk Album: "Wildwood Flower")..

Lord of the Rings' wins 11 'Oscars' - The science-fiction film The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King won 11 awards, including best picture, from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Feb. 29. Previously, 2 other films had shared the distinction of winning 11 "Oscars." The movie was the 3d and last in a series based on the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien, and was acclaimed especially for its technical wizardry. Peter Jackson was named best director for the film. Charlize Theron was voted best actress in a leading role for her portrayal of a serial killer in Monster. Sean Penn won best actor in a leading role for Mystic River, in which he played the anguished father of a murdered daughter. Best supporting actor and actress awards went to Tim Robbins (Mystic River) and Renee Zellweger (Cold Mountain). The ceremonies were held in Hollywood. Billy Crystal was the host.


A jet plane at takeoff creates a 100-decibel noise; 120 decibels is considered the threshhold for a painful sound.

Offbeat News Stories

Scientists Confirm Big Bling. Promising the moon may not be enough anymore. Astronomers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics recently discovered the largest known diamond in the galaxy. Named BPM 37093, the giant jewel measures some 2,500 miles across and weighs an amazing 10 billion trillion trillion carats (that's 34 zeros). The discovery helped confirm the widely held belief that cores of dead stars, or white dwarfs, form huge chunks of crystallized carbon. How much would this cosmic gem be worth? Not much need to calculate, since it's about 300 trillion miles away.

Candy and Potholes? For the romantic at heart, but with a practical bent, a more down-to-earth option was available in Covington, Kentucky. Mayor Butch Callery had a unique way of dealing with his city's potholes this past winter: he let people give them as Valentine's Day gifts. Citizens were allowed to call or email the mayor's office to register their favorite potholes and dedicate them to loved ones. Each selection was posted online, along with a specially written message for each valentine. Although the city did accept money for the potholes, the dedications were free. And the expressions on the faces of the recipients? Priceless.

From The World Almanac: Internet Lingo

The following abbreviations are sometimes used in Internet documents and in e-mail.

BTW                 By the way

F2F                  Face to face; a personal meeting

FCOL                For crying out loud

FWIW               For what it's worth

FYI                   For your information

GOK                 God only knows

GTG                 Got to go

HHOK               Ha, ha - only kidding

INHO                In my humble opinion

IMO                  In my opinion

JK                    Just kidding

LOL                  Laughing out loud

OTOH               On the other hand

PLS                  Please

ROTFL              Rolling on the floor laughing

TAFN                That's all for now

TTFN                Ta-ta for now

Emoticons, or smileys, are a series of typed characters that, when turned sideways, resemble a face and express an emotion. Here are some smileys often encountered on the Internet.

:-)          Smile

:-D        Laugh

:-(         Unhappy

:-b...     Drooling

;-)        Wink

:-*        Kiss

{*}      A hug and a kiss

Links of the Month

Edward A. Thomas, Editor in Chief


I was out in San Diego visiting my sister Marie, and brother-in-law Jerry a few weeks back, and let me tell you, it was so nice to be someplace warm, and to sit on the beach in the middle of winter! My brother-in-law, who loves music, suggested a great website to me, a free radio service at I now have music in the background, at work, all day. Whether your musical tastes run to showtunes, Southern Gospel, Hawaiian, or Bollywood, there's something here for you to listen to.

While out in California, we drove to visit family in Palm Springs, and I was pleasantly surprised to see a number of windmills along the roadside. Don't think Don Quixote windmill, but instead modern wind turbine generators. To learn more about wind energy, visit:

I spent an afternoon at the 1,800-acre San Diego Wild Animal Park during my visit, and truth be told, I go ape for apes, monkeys, and gorillas. I enjoyed watching the gorillas, seeing the giraffes run in open space, and seeing the California condors. While I highly recommend a visit to the zoo itself, you can follow the animals from far away, by watching the different cams, like the Live Ape Cam, and the Panda Cam, at

My sister's friend Merryl suggested that I visit Kit Carson Park in Escondido, on my way back from the zoo, because of an interesting sculpture there. A French-American artist, Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002), created a mosaic sculpture called Queen Califia's Magical Circle in a portion of the park. This whimsical circle, can enchanting, for both children and adults. To view photographs visit To see more of the artist's work and learn about her life, visit

In search of a gift for a friend, I stopped at some of the shops in Old Town, a section of San Diego that showcases the historical development. A number of buildings from the early days of the city can be found within a 5-square-block area that has been commercially developed, and now houses many artisans and eateries. To learn more about Old Town visit:

The gift I ended up buying was not native to San Diego, but something I thought my friend would find of interest -- an Ammonite fossil. Ammonites are mollusks that swam in shallow seas before becoming extinct 65 million years ago. They are related to the chambered Nautilus of today. To learn more about Ammonites and other fossils, visit the San Diego Natural History Museum site at

One of the books I read while on vacation, was about the last tsar of Russia, Nicholas II and his family, who were ultimately executed by the Bolsheviks in 1918. The romance of Nicholas and Alexandra is well known, and the two often corresponded with each other during the many years of their marriage. To peek into a chapter of their lives, you can visit, and can read the letters that the tsar wrote to the tsarina during World War I. The site also offers a rich history of the family, with letters, photographs, and a treasure of worthy links.

It was nice to have time to relax while in California, and I soaked up some sun (with SBF 45 suntan lotion) at both Mission Beach, and Pacific Beach. I always enjoy returning to Mission Beach, to ride the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster, but I guess it was off season, and repairs were being made. You can learn more about the roller coaster at I rented a bicycle to ride along the boardwalk and hang out at Pacific Beach, where during the summer they hold BeachFest, and have sand castle contests. To learn more about Pacific Beach, visit

I started out by mentioning my brother-in-law Jerry, so I'll honor famous Jerry's this month. Let's begin with Jerry, of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream. At, you can learn about how ice cream is produced, from the cow to the cone, check out the top ten flavors, and see which ones have made it into the Flavor Graveyard. Then of course, there is comedian Jerry Seinfeld, who starred in a top-rated TV sitcom for 9 seasons. At you can find out where Seinfeld reruns are playing in the U.S. at any given time, learn about the episodes, view clips and photos, and vote in the Seinfeld poll. In the music world, who can forget the Grateful Dead's lead singer Jerry Garcia? At you can listen to audio clips, and see examples of his artwork. And could we say the name Jerry without mention another funny man, Jerry Lewis? At you can see a timeline of his career, view videos, and learn more about the man the French worship, and who've awarded him the Legion of Honor. Last but not least, you can learn about the contributions producer Jerry Bruckheimer has made to the film industry by visiting his website Find out the plots, see behind the scenes photographs, and learn more about such films as Pearl Harbor, Top Gun and Armageddon.

Unusual Website of the Month: The Furby Autopsy at

* What's a BLOG? A blog is basically a journal that is available on the web.

© World Almanac Education Group

World Almanac E-Newsletter
Edward A. Thomas, Editor in Chief

Newsletter Contributors:
Louise Bloomfield, Erik Gopel, Walter Kronenberg, Chris Larson, Bill McGeveran, Kevin Seabrooke and Lori Wiesenfeld

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