The World Almanac E-Newsletter

Volume 05, Number 01 - January 2005

 

 

 

What's in this issue?

January Events
January Holidays - National and International
This Day In History - January
January Birthdays
Travel: Cardiff, Europe's Youngest Capital City, Remakes Itself
Obituaries - December 2004
Special Feature: Video Recording -- Revolution and Evolution
Chronology - Events of December 2004
Science in the News: Beauty Secrets of the Ancient Romans
Offbeat News Stories
From The World Almanac- Astronomy: Planet Superlatives
Links of the Month
How to reach us

January Events

January 1 - Rose Bowl (Pasadena, CA); Fiesta Bowl (Tempe, AZ); Cotton Bowl (Dallas, TX); Capital One Bowl (Orlando, FL); Gator Bowl (Jacksonville, FL); Outback Bowl (Tampa, FL); New Year's Day Parade (London); Mummers Parade (Philadelphia, PA); Tournament of Roses Parade (Pasadena, CA); Penguin Plunge (Jamestown, RI); Polar Bear Swim (Sheboygan, WI)
January 2 - Kakizome festival (Japan)
January 3 - Sugar Bowl (New Orleans, LA)
January 4 - Orange Bowl (Miami, FL)
January 6-9 - Elvis Presley Birthday Celebration (Graceland, Memphis, TN)
January 7 - Nanakusa festival (Japan)
January 8 - Great Fruitcake Toss (Manitou Springs, CO)
January 10-23 - KidFilm Festival (Dallas, TX)
January 13-16 - West London Antiques and Fine Art Fair (London, England); Icebox Days XXV (International Falls, MN)
January 14-16 - Art Deco Weekend (Miami Beach, FL); Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration (Hollywood, FL)
January 15-16 - AKC/Eukanuba National Championship (Tampa Bay and St. Petersburg, FL)
January 16 - Golden Globe Awards; Houston Marathon, Half Marathon, and 5K
January 17-30 - Australian Open tennis tournament
January 19-22 - Illinois Snow Sculpting Competition (Rockford, IL)
January 19-Feb. 3 - South Florida Senior Games (Hollywood, FL)
January 20 - Inauguration of U.S. president and vice president (Washington, DC)
January 20-30 - Sundance Film Festival (Park City, UT)
January 22 - Einstein on Wine (Tampa, FL); Hula Bowl (Maui, HI)
January 22-29 - National Cowboy Poetry Gathering (Elko, NV); Slamdance 2005 (Park City, UT)
January 24-30 - Bob Hope Chrysler Classic (La Quinta, CA)
January 27-30 - Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities (Eatonville, FL)
January 28-31 - Quebec Winter Carnival (Quebec City, Quebec)
January 28-Feb. 6 - Ontario Winter Carnival Bon Soo (Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario); St. Paul Winter Carnival (St. Paul, MN)
January 28-Feb. 8 - Nice Carnival (France)
January 29 - Senior Bowl (Mobile, AL)
January 29-Feb. 26 - Washington’s Birthday Celebration (Laredo, TX)

January Holidays - National and International

January 1 - New Year's Day; Saint Basil's Day
January 2 - Berchtoldstag (Switzerland)
January 5 - Twelfth Night
January 6 - Armenian Christmas; Epiphany; Three Kings Day
January 7 - Russian Christmas
January 17 - Martin Luther King Jr. Day
January 20 - Inauguration Day
January 21 - Eid al Adha
January 25 - Tu B’Shevat
January 26 - Australia Day; Republic Day (India)


IT'S A FACT!

There are at least 110,000 pieces of "space junk" 1 cm or larger orbiting the Earth.


This Day In History - January

Day

Year

Event

01

2002

12 European countries inaugurate the largest currency changeover in history by surrendering their national currencies and adopting the euro.

02

1959

The USSR launches the moon probe Luna 1, which becomes the first craft from the earth to orbit the sun

03

1993

Pres. George Bush and Russian Pres. Boris Yeltsin sign the START II disarmament pact.

04

1980

Pres. Jimmy Carter announces economic sanctions against the Soviet Union in retaliation for the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

05

1925

In Wyoming, Nellie Tayloe Ross is inaugurated as the nation's first woman governor.

06

1941

In a speech to Congress, Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt promulgates the Four Freedoms: freedom of speech and religion and freedom from want and fear.

07

1989

Japan's Emperor Hirohito dies after ruling 62 years; he is succeeded by his son, Prince Akihito.

08

1815

In the Battle of New Orleans, U.S. forces led by Andrew Jackson crush the British. Neither side knew that the War of 1812 had officially ended 2 weeks earlier.

09

1945

In World War II, U.S. troops invade Luzon to begin their final push to retake the Philippines.

10

1901

Texas has its first significant oil strike.

11

1935

Aviator Amelia Earhart begins a flight from Honolulu to Oakland, CA, becoming the first woman to fly solo across the Pacific Ocean.

12

1997

Two of the 4 women cadets enrolled in the Citadel military academy resign, saying they'd been assaulted and sexually harassed.

13

1993

More than 120 nations begin signing a treaty banning the manufacture, stockpiling, and use of chemical weapons.

14

1794

Operating on his wife, Dr. Jesse Bennett of Virginia performs the first successful Caesarean section

15

1895

The Tchaikovsky ballet Swan Lake premieres in St. Petersburg, Russia.

16

1945

The Battle of the Bulge ends in Allied victory.

17

1977

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

18

1912

The expedition of England's Robert F. Scott reaches the South Pole, then discovers that Roald Amundsen got there first.

19

1966

Indira Gandhi is elected prime minister of India.

20

1892

The first basketball game is played at the YMCA in Springfield, MA, with rules devised by James Naismith and peach baskets nailed to the balconies at each end of the gym.

21

1977

Pres. Jimmy Carter pardons most Vietnam War draft evaders.

22

1901

Britain's Queen Victoria dies after ruling for more than 63 years.

23

1849

Elizabeth Blackwell becomes the first woman to receive an MD degree.

24

2002

Committees in both houses of Congress begin investigations into the spectacular and suspicious 2001 bankruptcy of the Enron Corp., the onetime stalwart of the New Economy.

25

1915

Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas A. Watson complete the first transcontinental telephone call, between New York and San Francisco.

26

1788

The first settlers, mostly a shipload of convicts, arrive in Australia from Britain.

27

1973

The Vietnam War officially ends when the United States, North Vietnam, South Vietnam, and the Viet Cong sign a peace pact in Paris.

28

1871

France surrenders in the Franco-Prussian War.

29

1936

The Baseball Hall of Fame is founded in Cooperstown, NY.

30

1649

Britain's King Charles I is beheaded, under the orders of Oliver Cromwell and Parliament.

31

1917

Suffering from a British blockade, Germany declares almost unrestricted submarine warfare in World War I.


January Birthdays

Day

Year

 

01

1919

J. D. Salinger, author (New York, NY)

02

1968

Cuba Gooding Jr., actor (Bronx, NY)

03

1945

Stephen Stills, singer/songwriter/musician (Dallas, TX)

04

1935

Floyd Patterson, champion boxer (Waco, NC)

05

1928

Walter Mondale, former Minnesota senator, vice president, and presidential candidate (Ceylon, MN)

06

1957

Nancy Lopez, golfer (Torrance, CA)

07

1957

Katie Couric, TV anchor (Washington, DC)

08

1947

David Bowie, singer/musician (London, England)

09

1941

Joan Baez, singer and political activist (Staten Island, NY)

10

1949

George Foreman, champion boxer (Marshall, TX)

11

1952

Ben Crenshaw, golfer (Austin, TX)

12

1910

Luise Rainer, actress (Vienna, Austria)

13

1930

Frances Sternhagen, actress (Washington, DC)

14

1969

Jason Bateman, actor (Rye, NY)

15

1951

Charo, singer/actress (Murcia, Spain)

16

1928

William Kennedy, author (Albany, NY)

17

1926

Moira Shearer, ballerina (Scotland)

18

1933

Ray Dolby, inventor of the Dolby Sound System (Portland, OR)

19

1920

Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, former UN secretary general (Lima, Peru)

20

1948

Anatoly Shcharansky, expatriate Soviet dissident (Ukraine)

21

1957

Geena Davis, actress (Wareham, MA)

22

1937

Joseph Wambaugh, author (East Pittsburgh, PA)

23

1957

Princess Caroline, princess of Monaco (Monte Carlo, Monaco)

24

1918

Oral Roberts, evangelist and educator (near Ada, OK)

25

1933

Corazon Aquino, former Philippine president (Tarlac, Philippines)

26

1925

Paul Newman, actor/director (Cleveland, OH)

27

1918

Skitch Henderson, bandleader (Halstad, MN)

28

1929

Claes Oldenburg, artist/sculptor (Stockholm, Sweden)

29

1960

Greg Louganis, Olympic champion diver (San Diego, CA)

30

1937

Vanessa Redgrave, actress (London, England)

31

1931

Ernie Banks, baseball player (Dallas, TX)


Travel: Cardiff, Europe's Youngest Capital City, Remakes Itself

Cardiff, or Caerdydd as the Welsh call their capital, less than a century ago ranked as the world's biggest coal-exporting port. The coal trade - as all things must - eventually subsided, and the city, especially the docklands, acquired something of a down-at-heel reputation. Recent years, however, have seen an impressive refurbishing of the waterfront district and other areas, and Cardiff has emerged as an attractive tourist destination. A convenient base for exploring the southern Welsh countryside, it also has Britain's first stadium with a fully retractable roof and Wales's first national venue specifically designed for the performing arts. In 2005 the resurgent Cardiff will celebrate a double jubilee - the 100th anniversary of its designation as a city, and the 50th anniversary of its role as the capital of Wales.

Cardiff’s multipurpose Millennium Stadium, situated south of Bute Park, can accommodate 74,500 people and is said to be the biggest roofed stadium in Europe. Completed in 1999, it has hosted everything from the Rugby World Cup to concerts by the likes of music stars Tina Turner and Robbie Williams.

The new performing arts venue, called the Wales Millennium Center, was officially opened at the end of November 2004, with Queen Elizabeth II - along with her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, and her son the Prince of Wales - in attendance. The $180 million center, located on Cardiff Bay, is the home of the Welsh National Opera and other such organizations. Its architects were instructed to create a structure that would be - unmistakably Welsh and internationally outstanding. Without question, the complex turned out to be visually striking - some commentators have likened it to an armadillo. Its outer walls are covered with variously colored slate, a material long a hallmark of Wales. Fissures of glass in the slate are meant to evoke the ice and water characteristic of Wales's landscape.

Cardiff traces its origins back to Roman times. But its prominent historical landmarks stem from the Norman period or later, at least for the most part. The city's centerpiece, Cardiff Castle in Bute Park, was erected by the Normans on the remains of the foundations and walls of a Roman fort. As a result of subsequent renovation and restoration, most notably by the Victorian architect William Burges in the 19th century, the castle gained an elaborate clock tower and its interior acquired a flamboyantly whimsical and colorful character.

Another castle in the area that deserves a visit is Caerphilly Castle, just north of the city. Built in the 13th century, it lacks Cardiff Castle's interior splendor, but thanks to its massive defenses (including moated area) it ranks as the second biggest castle, in terms of area, in Britain. Also a must-see for castle buffs is the fantastical Burges-designed Castell Coch ("The Red Castle"), northwest of town.

Directly northeast of Cardiff Castle in the central part of town is Cardiff City Hall, which was built in a French Renaissance style and features a dragon - the national symbol of Wales - on top of the dome. Probably the most interesting aspect of the building for history aficionados is the Marble Hall on the second floor, which houses statues of Welsh national heroes, such as King Hywel of the tenth century, who codified Welsh law and supported women's rights; St. David, the patron saint of Wales; Owen Glendower, a Welsh leader who championed independence in the late 14th and early 15th centuries; and Harri Tewdwr, who as Henry VII was the first English king of the House of Tudor.

Just beyond the City Hall lies the National Museum of Wales, noteworthy for extensive historical and natural science holdings, as well as wide-ranging collections of silver, china, glass, sculptures, and paintings, including major impressionist works.

The Museum of Welsh Life, said to be one of the most important open-air museums in Europe, is located a few miles west of central Cardiff on the grounds of a 16th-century mansion called St. Fagans Castle. Occupying some 100 acres (40 ha) of parkland, this folk museum illustrates Welsh life over the last five centuries and features dozens of buildings brought from all areas of Wales—among them workshops, cottages, a chapel, a school, and stores.

The Cathedral Church of Saints Peter and Paul, Dyfrig, Teilo, and Euddogwy is located west of the central city in an area called Llandaff on the River Taff (from which the area, at one time a separate city, derived its name). The church, commonly called simply Llandaff Cathedral, was built in the 12th century on the site of an earlier church associated with the activity of Saints Dyfrig, Teilo, and Euddogwy in the sixth century; renovations continued to be made to the church, most notably in the 13th and 20th centuries.

In honor of its 100th anniversary as a city and 50th as capital of Wales, Cardiff will be hosting a number of events throughout 2005. For more information, go to:
http://www.visitcardiff.info/content/public/dynamic/default.asp?id=210

IT'S A FACT!

Antarctica has about 70 percent of the world's fresh water locked in its ice cap.


Obituaries in December

Axelrod, Julius, 92, neuroscientist who won a 1970 Nobel Prize for helping to explain how chemicals released by nerve endings in the brain regulate mood and behavior; Rockville, MD, Dec. 29, 2004.

Bernhard, Prince, 93, German nobleman who married into the Dutch royal family and was the husband of one Dutch queen and the father of another; Utrecht, the Netherlands, Dec. 1, 2004.

Brown, Herbert C., 92, chemist whose research into boron compounds won him a Nobel Prize in 1979; Lafayette, IN, Dec. 19, 2004.

Fennell, Frederick, 90, founder and conductor of the Eastman Wind Ensemble who greatly advanced the prestige of band music; Siesta Key, FL, Dec. 7, 2004.

Goossens, Sidonie, 105, British harpist who had been the last of four siblings who all made their mark as classical musicians; Betchworth, England, Dec. 15, 2004.

Markova, Dame Alicia, 94, British ballerina who created roles for a host of major 20th century choreographers and was known worldwide for her interpretation of the title role in Giselle; Bath, England, Dec. 2, 2004.

Martin, Agnes, 92, Canadian-born abstract painter who rose to prominence in New York City before moving to New Mexico in the 1970s; Taos, NM, Dec. 16, 2004.

Newfield, Jack, 66, muckraking New York City journalist and author or coauthor of 10 books on subjects ranging from politics to boxing; New York, NY, Dec. 20, 2004.

Orbach, Jerry, 69, actor who was a celebrated song-and-dance man on Broadway before starring as Detective Lennie Briscoe on the TV series "Law & Order" for a dozen seasons; New York, NY, Dec. 28, 2004.

Rao, P.V. Narasimha, 83, prime minister of India in the early 1990s who oversaw that country’s adoption of much-needed economic reforms; New Delhi, India, Dec. 23, 2004.

Sampson, Anthony, 78, British journalist and author whose book The Anatomy of Britain (1962) had been periodically updated and who was the authorized biographer of South Africa’s first black president, Nelson Mandela; Wardour, England, Dec. 18, 2004.

Shaw, Artie94, oft-married swing-era bandleader and jazz clarinetist whose eight wives included actresses Lana Turner and Ava Gardner; Thousand Oaks, CA, Dec. 30, 2004.

Sontag, Susan, 71, critic, essayist, novelist and political activist who was perhaps the most glamorous U.S. intellectual of her time; New York, NY, Dec. 28, 2004.

Tebaldi, Renata, 82, Italian opera singer who in her heyday, from the late 1940s through the early 1960s, was regarded as one of the world’s finest lyric-dramatic sopranos; San Marino, Dec. 19, 2004.

Van Duyn, Mona, 83, poet of suburbia who in 1992 was named the U.S.’s first female poet laureate; University City, MO, Dec. 2, 2004.

Wesselmann, Tom, 73, pop artist known for his portraits of recumbent and/or smoking female nudes; New York, N.Y., Dec. 17, 2004.

White, Reggie, 43, one of the greatest defensive ends in professional football history, nicknamed the "Minister of Defense"; Huntersville, NC, Dec. 26, 2004.


Special Feature: Video Recording -- Revolution and Evolution

by Joseph Gustaitis

On January 31, 1955 -- fifty years ago this month -- David Sarnoff, the colorful and visionary chairman of RCA, attended a meeting of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers in New York City to show off a few new inventions. One was a synthesizer that, it was said, could reproduce "any musical, vocal or other sound." He also unveiled an electronic light amplifier and a non-mechanical water freezer. Finally, he brought news of a new magnetic tape recorder that could record color and black-and-white television] programs developed by RCA

No one at the time could fully anticipate what this would mean half a century later. Magnetic tape recorders for video were big and expensive, and the broadcasting companies intended to use them to tape live programs for later broadcast. Without this capability all broadcasting had to be live, with no possibility of editing or correcting something before it aired. Delaying broadcast was an especially important consideration in the United States because of the country's multiple time zones: a live evening news broadcast at 7:00 p.m. in New York would be seen in California at 4:00 in the afternoon. Who could imagine that the same technology would some day allow consumers just to run over to Blockbuster and rent movies to be watched at home? And who could foresee that the technological breakthroughs that brought us videotape would also lead to a dispute so fractious that it would end up in the U.S. Supreme Court?

Sarnoff's showpiece spurred the industry on, but it was not the first attempt to record TV programs. In the late 1920s, at the time of the earliest experiments with color television, the Scottish inventor John Logie Baird (1888-1946) came up with something called the Phonodisc. A distant forerunner of the DVD, the Phonodisc was basically a 78-rpm record that could capture images, but those were not of commercially viable quality.

A spate of innovations came after World War II. At first, the simplest method seemed to be to put a motion picture camera in front of a television and simply film the broadcast, but the quality was just not there. The real solution lay in recording images onto magnetic tape. (The magnetic recording process had been known since the 1890s, when Danish engineer Vladimir Poulsen discovered that a magnetic wire could capture sound.) Technology to record sound onto magnetic tape had been developed in Germany and used by the Nazis. A U.S. soldier named John T. ("Jack") Mullin, returning after the war, sent a German audio tape recorder, or "Magnetophon," home in pieces, and in August 1947 demonstrated a modified version of the device to entertainer Bing Crosby] for use on his radio show. Crosby became interested, and three years later Mullin, now Crosby's chief engineer, began working on a magnetic TV recorder.

The real leap forward, as it turned out, came from neither Sarnoff's nor Crosby's labs but from a California company called Ampex Corporation which, with some investment from Crosby, had produced the nation's first professional hi-fi audio tape recorders. At a convention of the National Association of Radio and Television Broadcasters in Chicago in April 1956, Ampex demonstrated an electronic tape recorder on which black-and-white TV pictures and sound could be recorded for immediate or delayed reproduction. By the end of the year, 13 videotape recorders (VTRs) had been put into place in TV stations across the United States; the first delayed videotape broadcast, by CBS, took place on November 30. The Ampex machine was called the VRX-1000 (later the Mark IV), and it sold for a robust $50,000. By 1961 a viable color recorder was developed.

Consumer Video Causes Clashes

By the 1960s it was obvious to electronics companies that soon everyone would have a color television, and that manufacturers' enormous profits from these new devices would dwindle. It was equally clear that a consumer videotape recorder could be a big seller -- audiotapes had already become very popular. As early as 1963, Sony was marketing a home videotape recorder for a little under $1,000, but this was a hard-to-use reel-to-reel machine that could record for one hour maximum. There was a flurry of excitement after Sony introduced the first videocassette recorder in 1969, but the machines proved difficult to build, and they still could not record for more than an hour. After a lot of money was lost, people were calling it "the great videocassette fiasco." Then, in 1975, Sony introduced the Betamax VCR, the first popular home videotape recorder, at a price of about $2,300. JVC ushered in the VHS (Video Home System) format a year later. Both machines used 1-hour tapes, but Sony brought out a 3-hour tape in 1977 and JVC topped its rival with a 4-hour model later that year. For a while, Betamax and VHS slugged it out for the public's affection, but Sony eventually surrendered. Not until 1988, however, did Sony say it would begin selling VHS models. By that point, about 170 million home video recorders had been manufactured worldwide -- only about 12% of them using the Beta format.

All those VCR sales were making electronics manufacturers very happy. Hollywood, however, was not happy at all. Moviemakers saw VCRs as a huge threat to their industry, believing that movie theaters would empty out as people got used to watching videotapes at home. As a result, in 1976 MCA Inc., parent company of Universal Studios, along with Walt Disney Productions, sued Sony, arguing that the private use of video recorders to record copyrighted movies and television programs was in violation of U.S. copyright law. The suit went to trial three years later. The judge ruled that home recording was legal, but two years later an appeals court overturned that decision.

In June 1982 the Supreme Court agreed to hear Sony's appeal. During the proceedings a lawyer for Universal and Disney argued, "There are property rights involved here. We are not talking about something that is of no value...What we are talking about is an end result that is no different than tape piracy...millions of copies are being made and the end result is the same." Sony's lawyer countered that copyright owners air their programs "with the purpose that people can watch them" and "should have no objection" to having VCRs capture broadcast signals for later viewing. By this time, it had become clear that what the movie makers really feared was not so much the loss of theater revenue, but that people would not purchase prerecorded videocassettes of Hollywood movies because they would be using home recorders to make their own copies.

On January 17, 1984, millions of Americans learned that they were not criminals. The Supreme Court ruled, 5-4, that home taping did not infringe on the copyright law unless the copied material was used for a "commercial or profit-making purpose." Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the majority, concluded that noncommercial home taping fell within the so-called "fair use" exception to copyright laws, which allowed the limited use of copyrighted materials. As he put it, "One may search the Copyright Act in vain for any sign that the elected representatives of the millions of people who watch television every day have made it unlawful to copy a program for later viewing at home, or have enacted a flat prohibition against the sale of machines that make such copying possible."

New Century, New Problems

During the arguments leading up to the decision, Sony's attorney had maintained that the home use of VCRs, far from harming the motion picture industry, had in fact created for them a market for prerecorded movies. He turned out to be right: the studios eventually made so much money selling videotapes that today some films are never even released in theaters. By 1996 consumers were spending $6 billion to buy videotapes and more than $9 billion to rent them, with 75% of sales and 20% of rentals going to the studios.

Nor did the studios put up a fuss when the videocassette was superseded by the digital video disc (DVD). DVDs turned out to be another marvelous source of revenue, despite industry concerns about digital piracy and unauthorized duplication. The first DVD player was introduced in 1997, and today sales and rentals of DVDs top $20 billion a year. As an example of just how lucrative they can be, the film Finding Nemo sold $339.7 million in theater tickets -- a staggering amount, certainly. But rentals and sales of the movie on DVD brought even more -- $431 million. Nowadays, a movie that has only moderate box-office success can recoup its costs, and more, through DVD sales.

Hollywood may have been persuaded that home recorders and players aren't evil, but that doesn't mean people aren't still arguing about them. The current dispute pits the studios against the performers, who want a bigger piece of the pie. Recently, representatives of producers' and actors' unions began intense negotiations over a new three-year film and TV contract. Under the current contract some performers get a tiny percentage of revenues from DVD sales, and they want that changed.

An example that recently made headlines involved the former cast of the hit TV show Seinfeld. Episodes of the show were slated to be released on DVD, but several cast members refused to participate in the project unless their cut of the residuals was improved. A deal was eventually worked out, and the DVDs appeared just in time for Christmas 2004. The question now is whether the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists believe that the issue is worth a strike. Considering the money involved, they may well believe just that. Meanwhile, the studios are pursuing yet other digital-age channels for the performers' talents: offering their wares online over the Internet.


IT'S A FACT!

Toni Morrison is the pen name of Chloe Anthony Wofford.


Chronology - Events of December 2004

National

Bush Names More to 2nd-Term Cabinet - Pres. George W. Bush continued to make changes in his cabinet prior to the beginning of his 2nd term. On Dec. 2 he nominated Gov. Michael Johanns (R, NE) to succeed Ann Veneman as secretary of agriculture. Bush said Dec. 9 that he would nominate Jim Nicholson, U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, to succeed Anthony Principi as secretary of veterans affairs. On Dec. 10 he picked Samuel Bodman, deputy treasury secretary and a former chemical industry executive, to succeed Spencer Abraham as secretary of energy.

Health and Human Services Sec. Tommy Thompson announced his resignation Dec. 3. On Dec. 13 Bush named Michael Leavitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, as his choice to succeed Thompson; Leavitt had previously served as governor of Utah. The White House said Dec. 2 that John Danforth had submitted his resignation as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.


Republicans Hold 30-Vote Margin in House - Louisiana Dec. 4 conducted runoff elections for 2 U.S. House seats, and the 2 major parties won one seat each. This meant that the new House would have 232 Republicans and 202 Democrats, with 1 independent.


Congress Approves Intelligence Reform Bill - A bill to restructure the U.S. intelligence community got through Congress Dec. 7 after 2 influential House committee chairmen came close to stopping it. The bill, signed into law by Pres. Bush on Dec. 17, incorporated key recommendations of the bipartisan commission that had investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. It created the new position of director of national intelligence (DNI), to oversee 15 intelligence agencies throughout the federal government, with substantial budgetary control over the agencies. A National Counterterrorism Center would plan intelligence and counterterrorism operations, and a Privacy and Civil Liberties Board would monitor the conduct of federal agencies. The bill also created a minimum national standard for drivers’ licenses. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R, CA), chair of the House Armed Services Committee, had opposed the measure, contending that the new bureaucracy could inhibit the flow of intelligence from the Pentagon to troops in combat zones; Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R, WI), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, had sought tougher restrictions on immigration. After a wording change and assurances that relevant immigration issues would be considered in 2005, the two senators agreed to support the bill. On Dec. 7 the House, 336-75, and the Senate, 89-2, approved the bill.


Bush Choice for Homeland Security Secretary Withdraws - Pres. Bush’s choice to succeed Tom Ridge as secretary of Homeland Security, nominated Dec. 3, abruptly withdrew his name from nomination 6 days later. In bowing out, Bernard Kerik said he had concluded that a housekeeper and nanny he had once employed was not clearly a legal immigrant and that required tax payments and related filings had not been made.

Kerik, who was New York City police commissioner under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, had played a major role in the city’s response to the 2001 terror attacks. Later on, he spent 4 months training the new Iraqi police force. After Kerik withdrew his name, media reports raised other potential issues, including huge profits he had made from companies doing business with the Dept. of Homeland Security and his relationship with the owner of a construction company who allegedly has mob ties.


Ex-Governor of Connecticut Pleads Guilty - John Rowland, who had resigned as governor of Connecticut in July amid a mushrooming scandal, pleaded guilty Dec. 23 to a charge of corruption in office. He acknowledged accepting $107,000 in gratuities and failing to pay taxes on them.


Democrat Certified Winner in Washington Election for Governor - Christine Gregoire (D) was certified Dec. 30 as the winner of the gubernatorial election in Washington state. Seven weeks after the election, the secretary of state declared that she had defeated her Republican opponent, Dino Rossi, by 129 votes, out of 2.9 million cast. Rossi had previously been certified the winner by 261 votes, and the first recount showed him ahead by 42 votes. Another recount, completed Dec. 22, put Gregoire, the state attorney general, ahead by 10 votes. A count of some overlooked votes raised her lead on Dec. 23.


Stocks Post Gains During 2004 - The stock market indices showed gains for 2004 after the closing bell rang Dec. 31. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 3.1% while the broader Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index jumped 9.0% and the Nasdaq composite climbed 8.9%.

International

Gunmen Kill 5 at U.S. Consulate in Saudi Arabia - Five gunmen attacked the U.S. consulate in Jidda, Saudi Arabia, Dec. 6, and engaged in a 3-hour shootout with Saudi security forces. Five U.S. employees (none of them American) were killed. Four of the attackers were killed and a 5th was wounded and captured. A group linked to al-Qaeda claimed responsibility.

Violence in Iraq Grows as Election Approaches - Iraqi officials prepared for January’s nationwide parliamentary election, as insurgents seeking to prevent or disrupt the voting stepped up their terrorist campaign. Voters were to choose the 275 members of the National Assembly from among slates of candidates. The influential Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali Sistani supported the United Iraqi Alliance, comprising mostly Shiite parties, which announced its slate Dec. 9. Two alliance parties had ties with Iran. Three Sunni slates had registered by Dec. 9.

In Baghdad Dec. 3, a bomb at a Shiite mosque killed 18 and a raid by gunmen killed 12 police officers. A bomb Dec. 4 killed 18 Kurdish militiamen in Mosul. Gunmen killed 17 Iraqi contractors on a bus in Tikrit Dec. 5. On Dec. 19, car bombs in Najaf and Karbala killed 61 and wounded 120, and 3 election officials were dragged from their car in Baghdad and shot to death.

An explosion Dec. 21 in a mess tent during lunch at an American base in Mosul killed 22, including 14 U.S. troops and 4 American contractors; about 70 were wounded. Ansar al-Sunna, a Sunni group, claimed responsibility. The incident was blamed on a suicide bomber.

On Dec. 28, 23 Iraqi police and national guardsmen were killed in a series of attacks. In Baghdad Dec. 28, insurgents lured Iraqi police into a booby-trapped house, then set off a bomb that killed 7 police officers and 25 civilians. U.S. troops and planes beat back insurgents attacking a combat outpost in Mosul Dec. 29, killing 25 of the aggressors.

The Pentagon announced Dec. 1 that the U.S. troop level in Iraq would rise from 138,000 to 150,000 in January, with tours of duty extended for many. Defense Sec. Donald Rumsfeld encountered some complaints in Kuwait Dec. 8 as he met with U.S. Army reservists bound for Iraq. Pres. Bush conceded Dec. 20 that the training of Iraqi troops to protect their country was having only mixed results but defended Rumsfeld’s performance as defense secretary.


Ukrainian Opposition Leader Wins Election - Ukrainians voted Dec. 26 to choose a president in a 2nd runoff election, and the opposition leader, former Prem. Viktor Yushchenko, was the apparent winner, defeating the Russian-backed incumbent, Prem. Viktor Yanukovich, who had been declared the winner of the previous runoff Nov. 21.

Supporters of Yushchenko had staged massive protest demonstrations follow the first runoff. The parliament passed a no-confidence vote in the government, Dec. 1, and the Supreme Court, Dec. 3, having found 'systematic and massive violations ' in the voting, had called a 2nd runoff. Parliament Dec. 7 completed action on election-law changes aimed at preventing such abuses as stuffing ballot boxes and multiple voting. Sec. of State Colin Powell warned Dec. 8 against any outside interference in the 2nd runoff. On Dec. 27, a day after the 2nd runoff, the Central Election Commission said Yushchenko had received 52% and Yanukovich 44%, for a margin of 2.2 million votes. The latter refused to concede and said he would challenge the results in court, even though international election observers said there weren’t any widespread violations. Street demonstrators Dec. 29 blocked an attempt by Yanukovich to meet with his cabinet. On Dec. 31, Yanukovich resigned as prime minister but said he would pursue his election challenge.

While campaigning earlier in 2004, Yushchenko had fallen seriously ill and been hospitalized twice in Vienna. On Dec. 10 he entered the hospital again, this time with his face swollen, discolored, and covered with cysts. Dr. Michael Zimpfer, head of the Rudolfinerhaus hospital, said Dec. 11 that Yushchenko had been poisoned by dioxin. Yushchenko had already said as much, indicating that political opponents had sought to kill him.

General

More Painkillers Linked to Higher Health Risks - Pfizer announced Dec. 17 that a study by the National Cancer Institute involving more than 2,000 patients linked its drug Celebrex to an increased risk of heart attacks, strokes, and death. The Food and Drug Administration had approved Celebrex for relieving pain related osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, but unlike other pain relievers, there believed to be fewer gastro-intestinal side effects. In 2003, physicians wrote more than 21 million prescriptions for the drug. Celebrex, like Vioxx, is in a family of drugs known as COX-2 inhibitors; Merck had withdrawn Vioxx in September after a study showed it carried an increased heart-attack risk.

The Celebrex trial, initiated to determine whether the drug could inhibit development of colorectal cancer, showed that a patient taking 800 milligrams per day of Celebrex had 3.4 times the ordinary risk of heart disease, while one taking 400 mg a day had 2.5 times the risk. A recent study of Bextra, another COX-2 drug manufactured by Pfizer, showed that it increased the heart-attack risk among patients undergoing heart surgery. Pfizer, noting that another study showed no increased heart problems among Celebrex users, said it had no plan to withdraw Celebrex. The FDA Dec. 23 advised doctors to show restraint in prescribing the 2 Pfizer drugs.

A National Institutes of Health study, reported Dec. 20, linked Aleve, an over-the-counter painkiller, to increased risk of heart disease.


Tsunamis Spawned by Indian Ocean Earthquake Claims Vast Toll - One of history’s worst calamities occurred Dec. 26, when a powerful earthquake in the Indian Ocean propelled towering waves, called tsunamis, toward the shores of a dozen Asian and African nations along the ocean’s rim. By year’s end, the death toll was estimated at more than 150,000. Countries reported these estimated deaths, as of Dec. 31: Indonesia, 100,000; Sri Lanka, 46,000; India, 10,000; Thailand, 5,200; Somalia, 114; all others, about 250 in all. One estimate put the number injured at three times the total dead. But all estimates had to be very approximate because of the scale of death and devastation; many thousands were unaccounted for, and uncertain sanitary conditions and other factors left open the possibility of many additional deaths. As the dead were cremated or buried, often in mass graves, millions remained homeless, often stranded without clean drinking water or food and in danger of becoming ill from disease. Although most of the victims were poor or of modest means, the tsunamis also struck resort hotels, notably in Phuket, Thailand, that attracted foreign tourists. On Dec. 28, reporters discovered a train in Sri Lanka that had been swept into a marsh, causing 800 deaths.

The U.S. Geological Survey initially reported that the triggering earthquake had measured 8.5 on the Richter scale and had struck at 8 a.m. local time about 100 miles off the west coast of Sumatra, an island in Indonesia. The magnitude was later put at 9.0, the 4th strongest in a century. Once the tsunamis were set in motion, they traveled as long as 6 hours to reach as far as the coast of Tanzania, in Africa, several thousand miles away. They moved at heights of up to 40 feet with speeds of up to 500 miles per hour. The nations most severely affected lacked alert systems, leaving no advance warning as the waves struck, smashing well inland and destroying almost everything in their path.

Relief efforts appeared to move slowly at first but quickly gathered momentum. The Bush administration, criticized for a slow response, raised its aid package from an initial $15 million to $35 million and, on Dec.31, $350 million. The Pentagon also deployed forces on the ground, air surveillance and transport planes, an aircraft carrier, and ships with drinking water to the affected areas. The World Bank pledged $250 million, and private citizens contributed millions of dollars. On Dec. 31 the worldwide relief total was estimated at $1.2 billion. UNICEF, the World Health Organization, and the Red Cross and Red Crescent were among organizations taking part in what might become the biggest relief effort ever. A cease-fire to the civil war in devastated Aceh Province in Sumatra was declared by rebels, to allow relief workers to assist those in need.


Science in the News - Beauty Secrets of the Ancient Romans

In July 2003, archaeologists excavating a site in London found a sealed pot dating from about 150 AD, when the Roman Empire controlled parts of Britain. On opening the canister, they discovered that it contained a whitish cream, in which finger marks were still visible. What purpose did the cream serve? A number of suggestions were put forward, ranging from toothpaste to a product to be smeared on goats about to be slaughtered.

The cream was sufficiently well-preserved to be analyzed chemically. Richard Evershed, a chemistry professor at the University of Bristol, and a group of colleagues carried out an analysis, using a variety of techniques. Based on their findings, they argue in an article published in the November 4 issue of Nature that the cream was probably a cosmetic. "Fashionable Roman women aspired to a fair complexion," the researchers write in their study, "and the Londinium cream may have served as a foundation layer." (Londinium is the name of the Roman town from which modern London grew.)

The chemical analysis revealed that the cream had two main ingredients: animal fat (probably from a goat or cow carcass) and starch. These ingredients each made up about 40% of the cream. Another key ingredient was tin oxide--SnO2--which made up about 15% of the cream.

The researchers believe the starch was used in the mixture to reduce the greasiness of the animal fat. The tin oxide lends the cream its white color. SnO2 has no known medicinal properties, so it was probably added for its hue--an argument in favor of regarding the cream as a cosmetic. Roman face paint often contained lead to produce whiteness, but tin would have been a logical substitute in Britain, where, in Roman times, there was a tin industry in the Cornwall region. Also, by the second century AD, the Romans were beginning to sense that lead has toxic properties.

Having analyzed the ingredients of the ancient cream, the researchers made up a modern sample. "This cream [the modern sample] had a pleasant texture when rubbed into the skin," they wrote in Nature. Like some modern cosmetics, the cream has cover-up qualities: Evershed rubbed some of the cream over his hands and the resulting paler tone of his skin made a scar disappear, according to news@nature.com.

Francis Grew, a curator at the Museum of London, told news@nature.com that the cream appeared to be a fairly upscale item. "It may be that we are looking at the equivalent of a SPACE.NK product. The container is quite a classy piece of work as well: you're looking at quite a posh piece." (SPACE.NK is a British beauty products company.)


IT'S A FACT!

January and November are the only months to have the same ancient and modern birthstones, garnet and topaz, respectively.


Offbeat News Stories

Meatball-Eater Rolls Over Competition

If some people’s eyes are bigger than their stomachs, Sonya Thomas isn’t one of them. Known in competitive-eating circles as 'The Black Widow, ' the 105-pound Thomas added to her growing list of gastro-feats in December by swallowing 89 meatballs (about 6 pounds) in just 12 minutes for a $2,500 prize. Since she began competitive eating 18 months ago, Thomas has eaten 11 pounds of cheesecake in 9 minutes, 36 dozen oysters in 10 minutes, and 52 hard-boiled eggs in 5 minutes. While she says the competition is "mostly a mind game," her training includes eating just one meal a day (usually at Burger King, where she works) and drinking large amounts of soda to help stretch her stomach. After her meatball triumph, Thomas commented, "I wasn’t that full. I had room for more. It was the swallowing that was the hard part."

Crazy Like a Fox

A performance artist best known for pushing a peanut across London, Mark McGowan took his "protest art" to the table in late November. McGowan dined on a roast fox in front of a small audience to protest a proposed government ban on fox hunting in the United Kingdom, and to focus public attention on more pressing matters for reform. "Everyone gets really worked up about a furry animal, but no one cares about each other," McGowan said. He described the fox, which was served with roast potatoes, as "a bit like rack of lamb." If necessary, another fox-eating performance will be held in the near future.


From The World Almanac - Planet Superlatives

Largest, most massive planet Jupiter
Fastest orbiting planet Mercury
Fastest sidereal rotation Jupiter
Longest (synodic) day Mercury
Most Moons Jupiter
Planet with largest moon Jupiter
Greatest average density Earth
Tallest mountain Mars
Strongest magnetic fields Jupiter
Most circular orbit Venus
Slowest orbiting planet Pluto
Slowest sidereal rotation Venus
Shortest (synodic) day Jupiter
Hottest planet Venus
No moons Mercury, Venus
Planet with moon with most eccentric orbit Neptune
Lowest average density Saturn
Deepest ocean Jupiter
Greatest amount of liquid, surface water Earth


Links of the Month - Edward A. Thomas, Editor in Chief

The largest earthquake to hit the earth in 40 years struck Asia on Dec. 26 off the western coast of Sumatra, setting off a tsunami in the Indian Ocean that affected 10 nations and killed more than 150,000 people. The term tsunami comes from the Japanese tsu (harbor) and nami (wave). It is an ocean wave created by an underwater earthquake or volcano. To learn more about tsunami’s visit: http://www.geophys.washington.edu/tsunami/welcome.html. If you want to make a contribution for providing assistance to those affected by the earthquake and tsunami, a comprehensive list of American organizations offering support can be found at http://www.interaction.org/sasia/index.html . The site offers details as to the services they will be providing. Europeans can make donations to the Disasters Emergency Committee at https://www.donate.bt.com/bt_form_dec.htm.

As the year was coming to a close, I was finishing a book I started some months ago about Benjamin Franklin. One of the leaders of the American Revolution, Franklin wore many hats, as a journalist, printer, scientist, librarian, diplomat, and inventor. Between 1771 and 1788, Franklin wrote his Autobiography, and you can read it online at http://www.earlyamerica.com/lives/franklin/index.html. The site also has some other interesting features, including the texts of famous documents like the Bill of Rights, portraits of famous early Americans, and original obituaries for some of our founding fathers.

My co-worker Jane is having a birthday in January, so this month I honor Janes. (Laura) Jane Addams was a pioneer social worker in the U.S., who founded a settlement house (community center), Hull House, in Chicago, to improve the lives of the poor. One of the founders of the NAACP, she was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize. Learn more about Addams at: http://wall.aa.uic.edu:62730/artifact/HullHouse.asp. Lady Jane Grey was the queen of England for nine short days in 1553, at the age of 15, put on the throne by her father-in-law, the Duke of Northumberland, in an effort to prevent a Catholic, Princess Mary, from becoming queen. By age 16, she had been executed. To learn more about Lady Jane visit: http://englishhistory.net/tudor/relative/janegrey.html. Calamity Jane, born Martha Jane Canary, was a frontierswoman and fighter, known for her association with Wild Bill Hickok. Some claim that her nickname was a result of what she threatened would happen to any man who bothered her. To learn more visit: http://www.lkwdpl.org/wihohio/cana-mar.htm. Jane Goodall is a British primatologist and anthropologist who has been studying the social and family life of chimpanzees in Tanzania for over 40 years. Her nonprofit institute was created to do wildlife research, education and conservation and can be found at http://www.janegoodall.org/. Born the daughter of a clergyman, Jane Austen, now considered one of England’s greatest novelists, lived a quiet life, seldom leaving home. Her novels, published anonymously during her lifetime, portray English provincial society, with drama and humor. To learn more about Austen, visit http://www.jasa.net.au/jabiog.htm.

2005 will mark the 100th anniversary of Norway. After the existing Norwegian royal line died out in 1387, the country soon entered a union with Denmark. Following the Napoleonic Wars, Norway was ceded to the king of Sweden, but in 1905, Norwegians voted to end the union, by a vote of 368,392 in favor, and 184 against. To learn more about the celebrations occurring in Norway this year visit: http://www.2005.norway.info/.

It’s winter here in the United States, and that means there’s a fair chance we’ll be having some snow. Are you aware that no two snowflakes are alike? I think that’s fascinating. If you check out http://www.snowcrystals.com/ you can see photographs of different types of snowflakes, learn what scientists have wondered about snow crystals for hundreds of years, hear about designer snowflakes (wow!), and find out how to grow your own snowflake crystals.

I don’t usually include websites that charge you for services, but this one was too good to pass up. How would you like to surprise a loved one or friend with a personalized phone call from Lou Ferrigno? (C’mon, "The Incredible Hulk") Erin Murphy? (Tabitha Stevens on "Bewitched") Greg Evigan? ("BJ and the Bear") Larry Holmes? (World Heavyweight Champion) Or even Russell Johnson? (The Professor on "Gilligan’s Island") Well, there is a website http://www.hollywoodiscalling.com/index.php where you can actually get celebrities to make phone calls and video messages. Better hurry up; you don’t want to miss that phone call from Kato Kaelin.

As the holiday season winds down, people are putting away their Christmas decorations, and some of the garish displays in your neighborhood will disappear for another year. I keep driving past a house with an inflatable Grinch in a Santa suit, a big Nativity scene, and Homer Simpson in a Santa suit. Wow, everything has been covered. Check out http://www.uglychristmaslights.com/ and hope that your house isn’t featured.

Fun Website of the Month: Sorry, another Christmas related one ;..Scared of Santa Photo Gallery: http://www.southflorida.com/news/sfl-scaredsanta.photogallery .



© World Almanac Education Group

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

Newsletter Contributors:
Louise Bloomfield, Erik Gopel, Jane Hogan, Walter Kronenberg, and Bill McGeveran

Comments and suggestions can be sent to: editorinchief@waegroup.com

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