The World Almanac E-Newsletter
Volume 05, Number 03 - March 2005
What's in this issue?
March is National Nutrition Month, National Frozen Food Month, and Women’s History Month
March 1 - Omizutori, or the Water-Drawing Festival, begins (Todaiji, Japan)
March 1-Beer Day (Iceland)
This Day In History - March
The reopening of Milan's fabled La Scala opera house, after almost three years of renovation and construction, is just one of many reasons to consider a visit to Italy's second largest city in 2005. Milan is also known as a financial and industrial center and is one of the world’s capitals of fashion and design. (For the record, the 2005 women's fashion weeks, for presentation of the next season's collections, are scheduled for February 19-27 and September 24-October 2, and the city’s celebrated furniture fair is slated for April 13-18.) Needless to say, there are plenty of shopping opportunities. For the culturally inclined, the city offers a raft of attractions, extending far beyond La Scala.
Temple of world opera
The Teatro alla Scala, as La Scala is formally known, is perhaps the most famous opera house in the world. Since its erection more than three centuries ago, it has hosted the premieres of innumerable now classic works. A large hall venerated for its good acoustics, composer Giacomo Puccini commented more than a century ago that "singers come off better in this blessed theater than in other theaters." Renovations made to repair damage incurred in World War II, however, resulted in an unevenness of sound quality, and in recent years the theater's infrastructure grew dated. To remedy this, an extensive remodeling project was launched in early 2002. La Scala was closed while the work was under way, and its productions were staged at a theater on the outskirts of town.
The La Scala season traditionally begins each year on December 7, the day of Milan's most important religious festival, celebrating Saint Ambrose, the city's patron saint. The reopening of the temple of opera on Dec. 7, 2004, was thus an event of major moment for the Milanese. The opening night performance - Antonio Salieri's Europa riconosciuta ("Europa Revealed"), which had been commissioned for the theater's initial opening in 1778 - was shown via closed-circuit television at various sites around the city, the chief prison among them.
Fruits of the reconstruction in the main auditorium included improved acoustics and new seats equipped with subtitle screens, but the most far-reaching changes concerned the stage and support facilities. The theater received state-of-the-art lighting and stage machinery, an expanded backstage area, and new, modern rehearsal and administrative space.
The reopening of La Scala was accompanied by the return of the Teatro alla Scala Museum to its old home. Long one of the most popular museums in Milan, it has a fine collection featuring costumes and playbills along with opera-related paintings, statues, documents, and artifacts, such as the death mask of the composer Giuseppe Verdi.
La Scala is located close to the central square known as the Piazza del Duomo, where the city's cathedral, the Duomo, is located. A stunning multiple-spired marble Gothic edifice built between 1386 and 1965, the Duomo is said to be the fourth largest cathedral in the world. A nail set in the ceiling over the altar reputedly comes from the cross on which Christ was crucified.
Not far from the Duomo lies the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, dating from the 15th century. The refectory of the adjacent convent is the site of Leonardo da Vinci's renowned fresco The Last Supper. To view the fresco, a ticket is required, which typically must be booked far in advance. Also near the Duomo is the Ambrosiana, a luxuriant library and gallery whose vast collections include notebooks, drawings, and paintings by Leonardo, as well as works by the likes of Botticelli, Brueghel, Caravaggio, Luini, and Titian.
The multitalented Leonardo took part in the renovation of the fortress in the central city known as the Castello Sforzesco. It now houses a variety of museums whose holdings range from Egyptian antiquities, to musical instruments, to paintings and sculptures by such luminaries as Bellini, Correggio, Mantegna, Michelangelo, Tiepolo, Titian, and Van Dyck. The Brera area, east of the Castello, is the location of stylish shops and galleries, among them the Pinacoteca di Brera, featuring a superb collection of Italian art from the Renaissance to the modern period.
Lovers of trendy stores, if not everyone, will want to visit the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele on the Piazza del Duomo. This is a glass-roofed neoclassical shopping arcade, 96 ft (29 m) high, formed by the intersection of two streets. It was built between 1865 and 1877 and is ranked by Guinness World Records as the world's oldest shopping mall. Other than the Galleria, the two best-known major shopping streets in the central city, of interest particularly to people interested in designer labels, are Via della Spiga and Via Montenapoleone. Prices there, however, can be steep. Budget-conscious shoppers in pursuit of designer labels may prefer to peruse the wares at some of the many outlet stores located in the Milan vicinity.
Benenson, Peter, 83, British lawyer who founded the human rights organization Amnesty International in 1961; Oxford, England, Feb. 25, 2005.
Cabrera Infante, Guillermo, 75, Cuban writer, exiled from Cuba for more than half his life, who wrote memorable novels and film criticism and was one the fiercest critics of Fidel Castro’s communist regime; London, England, Feb. 21, 2005.
Davis, Ossie, 87, actor, playwright, film director, and civil rights and antiwar activist who with his actress wife, Ruby Dee, helped break down racial barriers both on Broadway and in Hollywood; Miami Beach, FL, Feb. 4, 2005.
Dee, Sandra, 62, actress who personified teenage innocence and mild rebelliousness in such films as Gidget (1959) and Come September (1961); Thousand Oaks, CA, Feb. 20, 2005.
Dos Santos, Sister Lucia, 97, Portuguese nun who was one of three cousins who reported childhood visions of the Virgin Mary near the Portuguese town of Fatima in 1917; the other two died young; Coimbra, Portugal, Feb. 13, 2005.
Eyadema, Gnassingbe, 69, dictatorial ruler of the African nation of Togo since 1967, when he seized power in a coup; en route to France for medical treatment, Feb. 5, 2005.
Grunwald, Henry A., 82, top editor of Time magazine from 1968 to 1979 and of all of Time Inc.’s publications from 1979 to 1987; after he retired from the corporate world, he served for two years as U.S. ambassador to his native Austria, from which his family had fled during the Nazi era; New York, NY, Feb. 26, 2005.
Herman, George, 85, CBS newsman who was the longest-serving moderator (1969-83) of the network’s Sunday morning TV show "Face the Nation"; Washington, DC, Feb. 8, 2005.
Mayr, Ernst, 100, German-born scientist, long resident in the U.S., widely regarded as the foremost evolutionary biologist of the 20th century; Bedford, MA, Feb. 3, 2005.
Miller, Arthur, 89, playwright deeply concerned with political and social issues whose drama Death of a Salesman (1949) was immediately hailed as a classic and was widely regarded as his masterpiece; he was known to non-theatergoers for his troubled five-year marriage (1956-61) to actress Marilyn Monroe; Roxbury, CT, Feb. 10, 2005.
O’Herlihy, Dan, 85, Irish-born character actor who worked widely in Hollywood and on U.S. TV and was nominated for a best-actor Oscar for his starring role in Luis Bunuel’s The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1954); Malibu, CA, Feb. 17, 2005.
Patterson, Tom, 84, Canadian journalist who in 1953 founded what became the largest repertory theater in North America, the Stratford Festival, in his hometown of Stratford, ON; Toronto, ON, Feb. 23, 2005.
Raitt, John, 88, singing actor who was the male lead in two classic Broadway musicals, Carousel (1945) and The Pajama Game (1954); in later years, he often performed with his daughter, pop singer Bonnie Raitt; Los Angeles, CA, Feb. 20, 2005.
Schmeling, Max, 99, German boxer who in 1930 became the first European to win a world heavyweight championship; his two most famous bouts were both against black American heavyweight Joe Louis, whom he shockingly beat in 1936 but by whom he was crushed in 1938; Hollenstedt, Germany, Feb. 2, 2005.
Smith, Jimmy, 78, "soul jazz" performer who, more than anyone else, turned the Hammond B-3 electric organ into an important jazz instrument; Scottsdale, AZ, Feb. 8, 2005.
Thompson, Hunter S., 67, pioneer of "gonzo" journalism, a term he coined for the type of exuberant, highly personal, often drug- or alcohol-fueled writing exemplified by his 1972 classic, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas; Woody Creek, CO, Feb. 20, 2005.
Vernon, John, 72, Canadian-born character actor whose best-known movie role was as comically sinister Dean Wormer in National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978); Los Angeles, CA, Feb. 1, 2005.
by Joseph Gustaitis
This month it will be 15 years since that momentous day of March 11, 1990, when the Lithuanian parliament formally declared a restoration of the republic's independence from the Soviet Union. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - the three so-called Baltic Republics - had all been independent states between 1918 and 1940, when they were annexed by the Soviet Union. Lithuania became the first Soviet republic to attempt to secede, and the event was the first crack in the facade of the giant multinational, multiethnic Communist state. Once the edifice began to crumble, it disintegrated at surprising speed. Less than two years later the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was history.
The Fight for Independence
Lithuania's northern neighbors, Estonia and Latvia, the two other Soviet republics on the Baltic Sea, were swift to follow Lithuania’s example. On March 30, Estonia's parliament adopted a resolution calling the republic an "occupied" territory and proclaiming a restoration of Estonia's prewar status as a free nation, and Latvia’s unanimous independence vote came on May 4.
The winning of independence was not trouble-free, however. The Soviet Union rapidly followed Lithuania’s independence declaration with strong pressure. On March 22, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev sent a telegram to Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis giving the republic two days to halt the recruitment of Lithuania's volunteer security force. A day later the Soviets curbed the movements of foreign journalists in Lithuania, gave Western diplomats 12 hours to leave, and restricted the entry of foreigners. Then, in the wee hours of the morning on March 24, a Soviet military convoy of more than 100 tanks sent an ominous message by rumbling past an all-night session of the Lithuanian parliament in the capital, Vilnius. The squeeze grew tighter in April when the Soviets shut off the flow of crude oil into Lithuania and closed three of the four natural-gas pipelines.
Independence movements also began to build in Soviet republics outside the Baltic region, and as events spiraled out of the Kremlin’s control, Gorbachev tried to salvage the situation by transforming the USSR into a confederation of sovereign republics. However Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia boldly rejected the treaty that would implement such a plan. By January 1991, Gorbachev’s patience had worn thin and he decided to use military force. Still considering the Soviet Union an intact sovereign state, on January 7 the Soviet defense ministry unveiled a plan to send army paratroopers to seven Soviet republics to enforce military conscription and round up draft dodgers. Events became violent. Supporters of the Moscow government launched a series of strikes in Lithuania on January 10, and on the following day Soviet troops seized key buildings in Vilnius, injuring seven people. Three days later Soviet paratroopers and tanks advanced toward the capital’s central broadcasting complex and adjacent TV tower, only to be met by hundreds of unarmed independence supporters shouting "Fascists!" and "Occupiers!" The paratroopers opened fire with bullets and tear gas, and by the time it was over 15 Lithuanians were dead, some crushed by tanks. A week later, four Latvians were killed when Soviet "black beret" interior-ministry troops stormed the headquarters of the Latvian interior ministry.
The Soviet strategy of using muscle had the exact opposite of its intended effect. World opinion was aghast at the loss of life. U.S. President George H. W. Bush called off a planned summit with Gorbachev, and although the White House did not explicitly say so, the move was widely understood to be in response to the Baltic crackdown. Gorbachev was already in a power struggle with Boris Yeltsin, who had been elected president of Russia, the largest Soviet republic, and after Soviet hard-liners attempted but failed to overthrow Gorbachev in a coup attempt in August, the Soviet parliament ended the 74-year-rule of the Communist Party. A new Soviet executive body called the State Council assumed power, and in its first official action, on September 6, 1991 it issued separate proclamations of independence for each of the Baltic states, thus ending slightly more than a half-century of Soviet rule. On August 27, the European Community ministers had agreed to recognize the three republics; the United States followed suit on September 2.
Like the other republics that broke free of the former Soviet Union (and like Russia itself), the Baltic states were confronted with the difficult problem of making the transition from a centralized, planned economy to a capitalist one. In Lithuania privatization and the formation of independent enterprises began slowly. Ex-Communists won a majority in elections held in 1992. In the late 1990s the country still conducted most of its trade with Russia, and when the Russian ruble collapsed in 1998, Lithuania’s economy fell into negative growth. By 2004, however, 71% of Lithuania's exports were going to European Union (EU) members and aspiring members. In 2003 it had the highest economic growth rate among all EU candidates.
Latvia's situation was exacerbated by its large minority population. After decades of Soviet settlement, only slightly more than half the population may be termed ethnic Latvians and about a third is Russian. (Other large minorities are Belarussian, Polish, Lithuanian, and Ukrainian). At first, the government sought to limit citizenship to Latvians and other Balts, but in 1998 citizenship was granted to all children born in the country after August 21, 1991 and the rules were changed to make it easier for ethnic Russians to be naturalized. Estonia also has a sizeable Russian minority (about one-quarter), but ethnic Estonians make up nearly 70% of the population. Today, the Estonian economy is a fast-growing one, partly due to investment from firms in nearby Finland. Estonia's per-person GDP is the highest in the Baltic states. The nation has developed one of the world's most advanced telecommunications networks, and Estonian law actually declares Internet access a fundamental human right.
The Baltic states' economic successes are linked to their taking their place in the collective institutions of the West. Membership in the United Nations came quickly (in 1991). Next, despite Russian displeasure, began the process of joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union. The Baltic republics formally joined NATO on March 29, 2004, along with four other former Communist countries (Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania).
On May 1, 2004 the European Union admitted Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, along with eight other new member states, bringing its membership to 25. The act brought 75 million more people into the EU, raising its population to more than 450 million. The new Eastern European members were generally seen as more eager than their western counterparts to have close ties with the U.S. In fact, all three Baltic nations joined the U.S.-led coalition and sent small contingents of support personnel to Iraq. According to the organization GlobalSecurity.org, as of February 2005, Latvia and Lithuania each had approximately 120 persons there and Estonia had about half that many.
Like other formerly Communist European countries, the Baltic countries are looking to tourism as a key to economic growth. Increasing numbers of tourists from around the world have been discovering the particular charm of the independent Baltic states, - and the locals have been busily scrubbing away the layers of Soviet dross. All three of the Baltics' capital cities - Tallinn (Estonia), Riga (Latvia), and Vilnius -- have "Old Towns" with cobblestone streets, picturesque narrow houses, and medieval churches. Since independence was restored, the historic structures have been joined by hip cafes, restaurants, nightclubs, and hotels. On top of all this, the three Baltic capitals are a bargain compared to the European cities that have been perennial tourism magnets. Back in 1990, it would have been difficult to imagine anyone using the words "Baltic states" and "trendy" in the same sentence, but in mid-2004 the Times of London called Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius "the new trendy threesome in the east." When that happens, you know that the Baltics have well and truly joined the West.
Bush Pushes for Social Security Reform - In his State of the Union Feb. 2, Pres. George W. Bush called for a fundamental overhaul in the Social Security system, the first since the program was introduced in the 1930s. In his plan, workers could set aside part of their wages subject to Social Security taxes into personal accounts. The money could be invested in stocks and bonds, but could not be drawn on until retirement. Bush warned that Social Security was heading toward bankruptcy. Analysts had predicted that by 2018 it would pay out more money in benefits than it took in through taxation; by 2042, full promised benefits could no longer be paid. However, critics of Bush’s plan asserted that the system was not in crisis. Bush had not said how he would pay for his approach, which would create a huge shortfall in taxes being paid into the system.
Gonzales Becomes Attorney General - Alberto Gonzales Feb. 3 became the first Hispanic person to serve as U.S. attorney general. He was sworn in just after the Senate approved his nomination, 60-36, with Democrats and 1 independent voting no. Opponents of Gonzales had criticized his perceived ambiguous views, while serving as White House counsel, on the abuse of Iraqi and terrorist prisoners.
Bush’s Budget Aims to Slow Federal Spending - Pres. Bush sent to Congress Feb. 7 a $2.57 trillion federal budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, 2005. The budget would slow the growth of government spending from 8.2% to 3.6% in one year, and, he said, put the country on the road to cutting the federal budget deficit in half by 2009. Pentagon spending would jump by 4.8%, or $19.2 billion, not including the cost of operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. The initial cost of the president’s proposed reform of Social Security was also not included. The budget called for an end to subsidies for Amtrak and a cap on subsidy payments to farmers.
Democrats Elect Dean as National Chairman - Howard Dean, an unsuccessful candidate for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination, was chosen by his party Feb. 12 to be its new national chairman. A medical doctor and a former governor of Vermont, Dean was elected by voice vote after his rivals dropped out. During his failed presidential bid, Dean successfully utilized the Internet to raise funds for his campaign. He succeeded Terry McAuliffe, also a prodigious fundraiser.
Bush Names Negroponte as Intelligence Czar - Pres. Bush Feb. 17 tapped a career diplomat, John Negroponte, to serve in the newly created position of director of national intelligence. If approved by the Senate, he will oversee the intelligence work of 15 agencies, including the CIA. From now on, Bush said, Negroponte would give the president his daily intelligence briefing. Negroponte had spent 41 years in government service, as ambassador to Mexico, the Philippines, Honduras, and (currently) Iraq, and as U.S. delegate to the United Nations. He had also been deputy national security adviser during part of the Reagan and elder Bush administrations.
Report Rebukes Ex-Head of Iraqi Oil-for-Food Program - The Independent Inquiry Committee, a UN commission investigating the oil-for-food program in Iraq, issued an interim report Feb. 3. It found that the former head of the program had violated the U.N. Charter when he helped a friend’s company obtain contracts to sell Iraqi oil. The official, Benon Sevan, of Cyprus, had run the program from 1997 until the U.S. invasion ended it in 2003. The commission, headed by Paul Volcker, former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman, reported that other officials had violated UN rules on competitive bidding. On Feb. 6, the UN suspended Sevan, who had since become a UN adviser, and Joseph Stephanides, an official on the Security Council staff, who had helped choose the oil-for-food program contractors. A Senate subcommittee reported Feb. 14 that Sevan may have made up to $1.2 million from illegal oil shipments.
President and Secretary of State Visit Europe - Sec. of State, Condoleezza Rice, and later Pres. Bush, visited Europe as part of a U.S. diplomatic mission to mend U.S.-European relations damaged by the Iraq war. Results were mixed. At the beginning of the trip, Rice in London Feb. 3 denounced Iran’s human rights record, disappointing Europeans eager for a resolution to the dispute over Iran’s suspect nuclear-arms program. After meeting with Rice in Berlin Feb. 4, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said he would do more to help the recovery of Iraq, but continued to rule out any military commitment. In Ankara, Turkey, Feb. 5, Rice told Foreign Min. Sergey Lavrov that Russia’s punishment of political dissenters was complicating relations with the U.S.
Prime Minister of Georgia Dies in Accident - Prime Min. Zurab Zhvania of Georgia died in Tbilisi, Feb. 3, from carbon monoxide poisoning due to a malfunctioning space heater. He was visiting the apartment of an acquaintance, Raul Usupov, a deputy governor from the Kvemo Kartli region, who also died. Zhvania was a major figure in the reform government under Pres. Mikhail Saakashvili, which had come to power in 2003.
Israeli, Palestinian Leaders Declare a Truce - Prime Min. Ariel Sharon of Israel and the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, met in Sharm el Sheik, Egypt, Feb. 8 and declared a truce. Abbas said they had jointly agreed to halt all acts of political violence in their respective territories. Sharon had previously refused to meet with Yasir Arafat, Abbas’s predecessor. Israel reportedly would pull back its forces from 5 West Bank cities, including Jericho and Bethlehem. Spokesmen for Hamas, a militant Palestinian group, said it was not bound by the agreement. Israel Feb. 17 ended the practice of demolishing the homes of suicide bombers and others identified as terrorists. On Feb. 20, the Israeli cabinet, 17-5, approved Sharon’s plan to withdraw Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip. Sharon then ordered that their removal, which infuriated many in his own party, begin July 20. The cabinet Feb. 20 also approved a revised route for the West Bank barrier being built to protect Israelis from terrorist attacks. An Israeli court had found that it would impose too many hardships on Palestinians. In another goodwill step, Israel Feb. 21 freed 500 Palestinian prisoners; it still held 7,000. The Palestinian parliament Feb. 24 approved a cabinet that appeared to represent a break with the Arafat era. The sense of progress was set back Feb. 25, when a suicide bomber killed 4 and wounded dozens in an explosion at a Tel Aviv nightclub.
North Korea Claims It Has Nuclear Weapons - North Korea Feb. 9 confirmed what had been widely suspected, that it possessed nuclear weapons. The reclusive Communist regime had warned of having nuclear capability, but had not previously said that nuclear fuel had been placed in weapons. In its new announcement, North Korea said that the weapons were “for self-defense to cope with the Bush administration’s undisguised policy to isolate and stifle” it. North Korea said it would suspend participation in disarmament talks because of U.S. policy in pursuing a “regime change” in North Korea. China Feb. 13 called for “denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula and urged North Korea to return to regional talks.
Religious Shiites Win Nearly Half of Votes in Iraq - An alliance of Shiite Muslims led by 2 religious parties won 48% of the vote in Iraq’s national election, according to official results announced Feb. 13. The alliance was backed by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. An alliance of the 2 major Kurdish parties received 26%, and the secular Iraqi List, headed by interim Prime Min. Ayad Allawi, got 14%. With seats in the 275-member national assembly to be allocated according to the number of votes for each list, the religious Shiites would have 140 seats, the Kurds 75, and the secular Shiites 40. Nine other parties won a few seats each. The Sunni Muslims, who were in power under ex-Pres. Saddam Hussein, had largely boycotted the election. Defying threats that they would be killed, 8.5 million Iraqis, or 58% of those eligible, cast ballots. A two-thirds majority in the assembly would be required to approve a new government. The winning alliance Feb. 22 backed Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shiite with ties to religious elements, for prime minister. Some secular leaders indicated that they would oppose his election.
Bomb Kills Former Prime Minister of Lebanon - A former prime minister of Lebanon, Rafik Hariri, was killed Feb. 14 when a bomb exploded in his motorcade in Beirut. Thirteen others, bodyguards and passersby also died, and more than 100 were wounded. Hariri had resigned as prime minister in October 2004 in protest against Syrian influence over Lebanese affairs. Syria maintained 15,000 troops in Lebanon.
Lebanon Prime Minister Resigns - After nearly two weeks of demonstrations, tens of thousands of protestors in Beirut forced the resignation of pro-Syria Lebanese Prime Min. Omar Karami Feb. 28. The protests came in the wake of the Feb. 14 bombing that killed former Prime Min. Hariri. Demonstrators blamed Karami and the Syrian government for the assassination, and called for the removal of the 14,000 Syrian troops from Lebanon. Both the U.S. and France voiced support for the protests and offered to help the country hold free elections.
New England Wins 3d Super Bowl in 4 Years - The New England Patriots, led by quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick Feb. 6 defeated the Philadelphia Eagles, 24-21, to win Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville, FL. It was their 3rd NFL title in 4 years and 2nd in a row.. Brady threw for 2 touchdowns, completing 23 of 33 passes for 236 yards. The Patriots’ Deion Branch, who was named the game’s MVP, caught 11 passes, tying a Super Bowl record, for 133 yards. However, it was a 2-yard run by Corey Dillon, and a 22-yard field goal by kicker Adam Vinatieri in the 4th that put the Pats ahead to stay. New England’s overall record of 17-2 included 3 wins in the post-season.
Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles to Marry - Prince Charles, heir to throne in Great Britain, announced Feb. 10 that he would marry Camilla Parker Bowles. Both were divorced, most famously Charles from Diana, the former Princess of Wales, who was killed in a 1997 car crash. The April marriage will be a civil ceremony at Windsor Castle; Mrs. Parker Bowles would be formally known as the Duchess of Cornwall and would not become queen in the event of Charles’s succession.
Ray Charles Big Winner at Grammy’s - Genius Loves Company, the final, posthumous recording by Ray Charles received eight awards, including album of the year and best pop album, by the National Academy Of Recording Arts and Sciences, at the 47th annual Grammy Awards Feb. 13. Other "oldies" winners included: Rod Stewart, traditional pop vocal; Brian Wilson, best rock instrumental; Bruce Springsteen, best solo rock vocal performance; and a lifetime achievement award for Led Zeppelin. Other winners included Alicia Keys, who collected four awards in the R&B category, and Usher and U2, who collected three awards each. A complete list of winners can be found at http://www.grammy.com/awards/grammy/47winners.aspx.
Hockey Season Canceled Over Labor Dispute - The National Hockey League season was canceled Feb. 16. No games had been played because of a dispute over a salary cap. League Commissioner Gary Bettman, who canceled the season, said that the league had lost $497 mil on operations during the previous 2 seasons. The league had sought to reduce the average salary for players from $1.8 mil to $1.3 mill per year. After long debate, the players’ union Feb. 14 agreed to accept a cap. By Feb. 15 they said they would accept nothing less than a team cap of $49 mil per year. The league would only go as high as $42.5 mil. Neither side made a further move toward compromise. The NHL consisted of 24 U.S. teams and 6 Canadian teams.
Ex-Presidents Visit Areas Affected by Tsunami - Former Pres. George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton toured areas devastated by the Dec. tsunami, as the official representatives of Pres. George W. Bush beginning Feb. 19 in Thailand. On Feb. 20, the former presidents saw Lampuuk, which had lost nearly 90% of its 6,500 residents. The delegation then flew to Sri Lanka. Previously, on Feb. 9, Pres. Bush raised the U.S. relief pledge to $950 mil. In all, it was estimated that public and private contributions to tsunami aid from around the world had reached nearly $6 bil. The updated death toll was put at around 175,000, with about 125,000 people still missing.
Pope John Paul II Undergoes Tracheotomy - Pope John Paul II, spiritual leader of one billion Roman Catholics, was rushed to a hospital in Rome Feb. 24 and underwent a tracheotomy to relieve difficulties in breathing. The 84-year-old pontiff, who had been in poor health for several years, had been hospitalized earlier in Feb. The surgical procedure was described as a success, but the underlying condition remained a matter of concern as the pope recovered. The pope appeared at a hospital window Feb. 27, waving to the faithful and making the sign of the cross.
Million Dollar Baby Named Best Movie of 2004 - Million Dollar Baby, the story of a young woman determined to succeed as a boxer, was named best motion picture of 2004 by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Feb. 27. The film also won in three other major categories: Directing (Clint Eastwood), Best Actress (Hilary Swank), and Best Supporting Actor (Morgan Freeman). Eastwood also starred in the film. Other top awards: Jamie Foxx, best actor, for his role as the late singer Ray Charles in Ray; Cate Blanchett, best actress, for her role as the late actress Katherine Hepburn in The Aviator. For a complete list of the winners visit: http://www.oscar.com/oscarnight/winners/index.html
Search engines tools used to search for information on the World Wide Web a complete network of all documents on the Internet which use the hypertext transfer protocol are all the rage these days. Google regarded as the world's most popular search engine a tool used to search for information on the World Wide Web has created a new service called Google Scholar, which searches online "scholarly" sources such as journal articles, theses, books and technical reports. The company also recently announced an ambitious plan to make the contents of libraries searchable with its technology, through a service called Google Print. Meanwhile, Microsoft Corporation has revamped its search engine, MSN Search. And a number of companies, including both Google and Microsoft, have released, or plan to release, search engines equipped with a "desktop on most computers, the background screen where icons for programs, drives, applications, etc. are seen search" features. These tools allows one to use a search engine to find information stored on one's personal computer.
However, even though search engines are getting more sophisticated and specialized, the basic principles underlying most mainstream engines such as Google and MSN Search have remained pretty much the same.
If you've ever surfed the Web, you're probably familiar with how to use a search engine: you visit the search engine's website a series of connected webpages, type in keywords a word associated with a subject; used by search engines to identify relevant webpages associated with the information you're looking for, and within a few seconds or less you get a list of sites containing those keywords. Typically, the engine ranks the list, placing the results that it deems most relevant to your search first.
But how, exactly, do search engines produce their results? The process begins with programs called "spiders a program that surveys webpages, building wordlists which are stored by a search engine" or "crawlers." These programs survey a given webpage a single document on the World Wide Web, building a list of words on that page and noting how many times and where on the page they appear. Some search engines use spiders that keep track of all the words on the page, while others prefer spiders that are more selective for example, they may record only the most frequently used words but disregard such commonly used words as "a" and "the." Because different search engines' spiders work differently, search engine results may vary from one service to another.
In order to help spiders develop a word list that accurately represents the contents of a page, webpage designers will often include "meta tags used to identify a web page with key words that may not necessarily be on the page itself; invisible to people viewing the webpage" on a page. These tags which are usually not visible to people viewing the page can be used to stick in keywords that do not appear in the text of the webpage but are closely related to the subject matter. For example, the sport referred to as "soccer" in the U.S. is called "football" almost everywhere else; so, if you created a webpage about soccer, you would probably want to include the word "football" in the meta tag, even if you didn't use it in the text of the page.
After a spider has finished building a word list for a given webpage, it proceeds to follow all of the links on that page and to build word lists for the linked pages, and so on. Via this process, known as "web crawling the process by which a spider surveys a webpage, builds a word list for it, then moves to all the pages that are linked to the current page and builds wordlists for these," spiders quickly accumulate information about existing web pages and their contents.
The information collected by spiders is sent to the search engine, which encodes the data to save space and stores it in an index. Then, when a user searches for particular keywords, the engine looks through its index and finds every webpage it knows that contains those words (or bears a meta tag containing them). Hence, when you use a search engine, you are not actually searching the complete World Wide Web in its current form; rather, you are searching an index that the engine has built from data collected by spiders. One problem with this is that some of the index entries are out of date. Another issue is the fact that many sites aren't indexed at all because they aren't linked to any other site and thus spiders never get to them.
Once the engine identifies all of the pages that meet its criteria of being appropriate responses to a search, it has to rank those pages. Different engines use different systems to determine rank, and many of those systems take into account a number of factors, such as how many times the keywords are used on the page, in what size font they are printed, and where on the page they appear. Mathematical algorithms a logical, step-by-step method for solving a particular problem step-by-step methods for solving problems are used to produce rankings based on these many factors.
When Google was first launched in 1998, it immediately became the most popular search engine site because of its "link analysis a specific approach used by some search engines to rank webpages based on the number and importance of webpages that link to the page in question" approach to ranking webpages. The algorithm used in this approach takes into account not just the text on the page, but also the number and importance of webpages that link to the page in question. Although Google has patented its specific algorithm, PageRank, it can't actually patent a legal document that gives a person or a corporation the exclusive right to develop, produce and sell a product for a set number of years the link analysis method, which is now being used by a number of search engines, including MSN Search.
Now that many engines are using link analysis, the computer community is waiting to see what new approach will offer an edge in the search engine wars, and whether Google will retain its lead or perhaps be dethroned.
It’s Reigning Bats and Frogs
It’s official: some state legislatures may have too much time on their hands. Virginia and Georgia legislators recently voted in favor of new official state emblems that go beyond flags and seals - all the way to bats and frogs. Virginia’s House of Delegates endorsed legislation designating the Virginia big-eared bat, an endangered species, as the state’s official bat. If the Virginia state senate approves the bill, the new state bat will join a list of 16 official symbols, including the state beverage (milk) and state fish (brook trout). A similar bill was unanimously approved in the Georgia state senate, where legislators endorsed the notion of an official state amphibian (the green tree frog). Fourth-grade students in Rome, GA, began the effort to designate a state amphibian while studying government three years ago. Arguing for the bill, Sen. Preston Smith promised to give "a ribbiting speech" despite the "frog in his throat."
Once upon a time, fairytales were read to children anywhere - as long as everyone could see the pictures. These days, a service in the Netherlands called SprookieBel (Dial-a-Fairytale) calls into question the importance of seeing the pictures (or buying a book) at all. SprookieBel’s fairytale phone service charges callers 0.55 euro (about 70 cents) a minute to listen to recordings of classic fairytales like Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood. One story costs up to $7, which is likely more than the cost of the tale in print. In its first ten days, SprookieBel logged over 600 calls.
(Official Kentucky Derby times measured in fifths of a second.)
I used to carpool with a woman who could finish The New York Times daily crossword puzzle, in pen, in about 15 minutes. On the weeks that she drove, I'd struggle with similar puzzles, and have only completed a few of them in my entire life. Sad, huh? One of my co-workers found an interesting site that not only has crossword puzzles (8,100 of them), but allows you to create your own crossword puzzles. Check out the site at: http://www.crosswordpuzzlegames.com/.
Alex, one of my faithful E-Newsletter readers, was startled to learn in last months column that I've never eaten peanut butter, and wondered if I even knew what vegemite is. I sent back the lyrics of the Men at Work song "Down Under," and promised to include vegemite in this months E-Newsletter. Vegemite was created in 1922 by Fred Walker, by using yeast extract left over from the manufacture of beer, and mixing it with various vegetables and spices. It has proven to be a good source of Vitamin B. Sounds yummy, doesn't it? To learn more about Australia's "favorite spread," visit: http://www.vegemite.com.
My co-worker Vince is turning 29 this month, and so in his honor, we celebrate famous Vincents. First stop on our tour is the Netherlands of the 1880s, where Vincent Van Gogh took up painting, and created an incredible body of work in just one decade. Van Gogh, who suffered from mental illness which led to suicide, is considered one of the greatest painters in European history. To learn more about Van Gogh visit: http://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/bisrd/top-1-1.html. The actor Vincent Price played a variety of roles during his film career, ranging from Sir Walter Raleigh in "The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex" to roles in such horror films as "The Raven," and "The Fly." Learn more about Price at http://www.vincent-price.com/. Vince Lombardi studied for the priesthood for two years, before transferring to a high school where he became a star fullback on the football team. At Fordham University he played football as one of the offensive linemen dubbed the "Seven Blocks of Granite." He became one of the most successful coaches in the history of professional football. Learn more about Lombardi at http://www.vincelombardi.com/about/biography.html. One of country music's favorite singers, Vince Gill, has won 14 Grammy Awards, and beats out Michael Jackson, Paul McCartney and Ella Fitzgerald who, each won 13. Since 2000 he has been married to contemporary Christian music star Amy Grant. To learn more about Gill visit: http://vincegill.com/. Vincent "The Chin" Gigante head of the Genovese crime family in New York City, avoided prosecution in the 1980s by acting insane; he wandered around the streets in his bathrobe, mumbling to himself and grinning. He dropped the act once he was convicted of 41 racketeering and conspiracy charges. To learn more about "The Chin" visit: http://www.ganglandnews.com/gigante.htm. If you know who Vincent Damon Furnier is, check out: http://www.alicecooper.com/index.html. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to name my alma mater The College of Mt. St. Vincent, with its picturesque campus, overlooking the Hudson River, in the Riverdale section of the Bronx (NYC). Named one of U.S. News & Reports Best Colleges of 2005, Mt. St. Vincent boasts Corazón Cojuangco Aquino, former president of the Philippines (1986-1992), as an alum, as well as, Aline Countess of Romanones, who worked as a spy for the CIA during World War II. Learn more about the college at: http://www.mountsaintvincent.edu/.
This past weekend I went to see "The Gates," for the second time before they began dismantling them yesterday. "The Gates," was a temporary work of art (16 days total), designed by artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Twenty-five years in the making, the 7,500 orange gates bearing saffron-colored cloth wound through 23 miles of New York City's Central Park. The crowds were drawn to this once-in-a-lifetime event and it brought a beauty to the snow covered park though there were detractors that differ on this point. To learn more about Christo and Jeanne-Claude, and "The Gates," visit http://www.christojeanneclaude.net/tg.html and http://www.nyc.gov/html/thegates/home.html. Friends sent me these links to sites that pay homage/parody to "The Gates," http://www.smilinggoat.com/Crackers1.html and http://www.not-rocket-science.com/about_gates.htm.
Need you even ask? The answer is yes, I do have a matchbook collection. My cousin Lydia got me started on the collection as a child, and one of the prized items in the collection is a salesmens sample book from the 1950s given to me by my brother-in-law Jerry. To learn more about collecting matchbooks, visit http://www.matchcovers.com/. Also, check out this cool site of matchbook covers, with witty commentaries http://www.lileks.com/match/splash.html.
For those of us too young to remember first-hand the explosion of the Hindenburg, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, or Martin Luther King delivering his “I Have a Dream” speech, the following site http://www.historybuff.com/audio/index.html offers audio files for these and several other noteworthy events. One interesting recording is of P.T. Barnum, talking to future generations, 105 years ago!
Lipogram, n., a text that excludes a particular letter or particular letters of the alphabet. Can you imagine writing a sentence without using one of the most common letter (in English and French) E? In 1937, a writer named Ernest Vincent Wright wrote a 50,110 word novel titled Gatsby entirely without the letter E. Wright actually tied down the "E" key on his keyboard. Writing the novel seemed to prove too much for Wright, because he died the day the book was published. Check out Wright’s book at: http://www.spinelessbooks.com/gadsby/index.html.
Unusual website of the month:http://www.sandalandsoxer.co.uk/.
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